These days, I am never surprised at what I might read in a headline, but still, some reports do make me look twice– such as this headline: “Infertility breakthrough as cancer drug sparks growth of new eggs in 'astonishing' discovery”, as reported by a London news agency online.
Unfortunately, as is often the case when science is reported in the media, “breakthroughs” and “astonishing discoveries” are terms that catch the eye but are far from the reality of the real world of science and medicine. In this case, researchers have noted that some women treated for cancer with a chemotherapy combination denoted ABVD demonstrated more early eggs in ovarian tissue that was removed compared to “healthy women”.
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Until the actual study is published and reviewed by other scientists, this finding is neither a breakthrough nor astonishing.
What we don't know and aren't able to know from just one study:
- Whether the early eggs there mean they are newly developed eggs.
- It is impossible to know if there are early eggs, that they were stimulated to grow by the chemotherapy.
What we DO know:
1. Through years of repeated studies and experience, that ABVD is a combination of agents that results in ovarian damage and egg loss.
2. Some women treated with this combination chemotherapy experience permanent ovarian failure.
3. Many women who don’t have complete ovarian failure may demonstrate poor ovarian function in the future.
4. What has never been seen, or proven, is that ABVD can improve ovarian function or pregnancy rates in the future, and it is a medication combination that has been used for many years.
Scientists who talk about research and news agencies that report this information need to be careful when interpreting observations. In this case, there is no evidence to suggest that fertility can be improved, and no evidence that new eggs are actually growing. The headline is catchy, but the science may never help increase a woman’s chances to be pregnant.
In fact, this type of very early reporting and discussion can be a distinct disservice in that it may discourage women from getting tried and proven fertility treatment that will likely afford them the ability to get pregnant in favor of treatment that will not.