Childhood Cancer Fertility Project
Each year in Ireland around 200 children are diagnosed with cancer, the treatments for which can cause lifelong damage to fertility, seriously impacting their future chances of ever starting a family of their own.
A new partnership between the Irish Cancer Society and Merrion Fertility Clinic aims to ensure that, where possible, lifesaving treatment for children does not come at the cost of their future dreams of parenthood.
The three-year project aims to develop new supports and services across a number of phases to address a current significant gap in care and improve the long-term quality of life for children with cancer in Ireland.
The first of its kind in Ireland, the Childhood Cancer Fertility Project will develop cutting-edge methods to preserve fertility for certain children who do not have access to such a service here.
More than 4 in 5 children now survive their cancer diagnosis, and it is known that having the ability to start their own family is incredibly important to survivors in later life. Ireland currently lags behind the UK and other European countries in fertility services for children, adolescents and young adults who go through cancer despite this increasing need, leaving some families resorting to travelling abroad for help amid the stress of cancer treatment, with others receiving no help at all.
The Childhood Cancer Fertility Project looks at life beyond treatment for these groups, ensuring that where possible survivors are given the precious opportunity of having their own family in future.
The project will offer supports and services to three main groups:
- Adolescents and young adults about to undergo cancer treatment likely to affect fertility will be offered access to an enhanced fertility preservation service operated by Merrion Fertility Clinic.
- Female survivors of childhood cancers aged 18-24 will be invited to have their fertility needs assessed, and referred for further treatment or investigation where fertility treatments may still be an option.
- Children who have yet to reach adolescence will benefit from the development of ground-breaking fertility preservation methods previously not available in this country.
The three-year project aims to assist hundreds of childhood, adolescent and young adult cancer patients and survivors entirely free of cost to the user, in what is designed to provide a forerunner for a new national fertility preservation programme for these groups.
The result of a €420,000 investment from the Irish Cancer Society as part of its commitment to improving the lives of cancer survivors, the Childhood Cancer Fertility Project will bring together top international expertise to deliver a world-class service that caters for a basic yet essential need among our cancer community.
The project is supported by the National Child, Adolescent and Young Adult Fertility Preservation Consortium comprising the Irish Cancer Society, Merrion Fertility Clinic, the National Maternity Hospital, and Children’s Health Ireland, with further support provided by the National Cancer Control Programme.
Over its three-year lifetime, the project will eventually lead to a number of benefits and improvements for patients and survivors, including:
- A structured fertility health service for children, adolescent and young adult cancer patients headed by Merrion Fertility Clinic that will make it possible for patients to be routinely referred for the assistance they need in a timely manner
- Access to fertility testing and tailored counselling to help patients and their families understand and explore the options that are available to them
- Addressing an identified gap in knowledge and resources for healthcare professionals by empowering them to inform their patients about fertility options open to them, and refer them to an appropriate service.
The Childhood Cancer Fertility Project responds to the requirements of cancer patients/survivors as well as healthcare professionals, fulfilling an unmet need for clear information and access to tailored fertility services.
It represents an important step forward in delivering a new service that can provide life-changing opportunities for future parenthood never before available to these groups in this country, in what is hoped will be a catalyst for the eventual foundation of a comprehensive new national fertility preservation programme for Ireland.
Progress Update: Childhood Cancer Fertility Project
Read September 2021's progress update on this project, from Helen Groarke and Dr Lucia Hartigan from Merrion Fertility Clinic.
Call our Irish Cancer Society's Support Line on 1800 200 700 during work hours to find out more about the Childhood Cancer Fertility Project.
Professor Mary Wingfield, Project Clinical Lead
Professor Mary Wingfield is a Consultant Obstetrician Gynaecologist at the National Maternity Hospital and Clinical Director of Merrion Fertility Clinic. She has overall clinical responsibility for the project, managing a highly skilled team of doctors, nurses, scientists and researchers at Merrion Fertility Clinic. She is an advocate for the introduction of publicly funded assisted reproduction treatments, including fertility preservation and is Chair of the Fertility Preservation Subgroup of the NCCP Clinical Programme for Children and Adolescent/Young Adults (AYA) with cancer.
Helen Groarke, Fertility Nurse Specialist
Helen Groarke is a senior Fertility Nurse Specialist and the liaison nurse between Children’s Health Ireland (Crumlin) and Merrion Fertility Clinic. Helen is a Nurse Midwife and has been working in assisted reproduction for many years. She trained in Dublin, the United Kingdom and New York, and spent many years as a Fertility Nurse in Columbia Presbyterian Medical Centre in New York. Helen was involved in fertility research projects and has attended international conferences and completed fertility nurse courses. Helen’s interest in fertility preservation for children and young people stems from her personal interest in the survivors of childhood cancer and in improving these young people’s chance of having a family in the future.
Dr Venita Broderick, Consultant Gynaecologist
Dr Broderick is a consultant Obstetrician & Gynaecologist at the National Maternity Hospital in Dublin. She was awarded a Richard Steevens scholarship to pursue her fellowship training in Paediatric & Adolescent Gynaecology at The Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne. She runs an adolescent gynaecology service at The National Maternity Hospital. Dr Broderick works closely with colleagues at Merrion Fertility clinic and forms part of the multidisciplinary team who manage CAYA referred from CHI for fertility preservation. She is a member of the NCCP CAYA Fertility preservation group.
Dr Maebh Horan, Clinician
Dr Maebh Horan is a specialist registrar in obstetrics and gynaecology. She is currently completing a Clinical Fellowship and Doctorate of Medicine (MD) in fertility and reproductive medicine with Professor Wingfield and University College Dublin. Dr. Horan’s doctorate is focused on developing fertility preservation services for children and young people with cancer and establishing national guidelines for patients and healthcare providers to identify those young people most at risk of fertility loss after cancer treatment.
Dr Lucia Hartigan MD, Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist
Dr Lucia Hartigan is a Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist at Merrion Fertility Clinic and the National Maternity Hospital. Dr Hartigan graduated with honours from University College Dublin in 2010 and completed her Specialist Training in Ireland. She joined Merrion Fertility Clinic in 2017 and completed a two year clinical research fellowship on oocyte biology and fertility preservation. Dr Hartigan’s primary focus is on Fertility Preservation for adolescents and young adults pre- and post-cancer treatment and her research helped lay the groundwork for the Childhood Cancer Fertility Project.
For more information
1800 200 700