• Kyodo

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An estimated 2,600 female cancer patients annually would hope to freeze their eggs — to preserve their fertility before therapies that could make them infertile — if they had access to financial help, a recent study conducted by a health ministry research team reports.

The figure is around 10 times the 256 women who actually froze their eggs before undergoing cancer treatment in 2015, and highlights the need for a publicly funded subsidy program, according to the research team.

The initial costs of freezing eggs or embryos are at least ¥200,000 to ¥400,000, and it is believed that freezing eggs for all patients who might need the service in Japan would cost around ¥880 million. Frozen eggs can be used for in vitro fertilization when their owners decide to have children.

Cancer treatment can impair fertility in multiple ways, including the effects of chemotherapy or radiation in addition to the impact of organs being surgically removed.

The study team first estimated that there are about 5,150 unmarried new cancer patients aged between 15 and 39 every year. Based on the number of times eggs have been frozen in the country and an increase in the number of eggs frozen since the start of the central government’s infertility treatment subsidy program, it estimated that 2,622 patients would hope to preserve their eggs if they were free from financial concerns.

Other than financial worries, the research team also estimates that a fair number of patients face other obstacles, such as not being informed about the option of freezing their eggs, or not having access to facilities that provide them with the necessary services.

All facilities that provide egg freezing must register with the Japan Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology, but of the 47 prefectures, 14 have no such facilities, according to the research group.

“The number of cases where eggs have been frozen for preservation before cancer treatment has been gradually rising. It is important to further develop the (medical) environment so that women who wish to become pregnant do not lose their chance,” said Nao Suzuki, a professor of St. Marianna University School of Medicine, who represents the research team.

About 20,000 patients under the age 40 are newly diagnosed with cancer every year, and the Japan Society of Clinical Oncology has formulated guidelines for doctors to raise awareness of treatment options that preserve patients’ fertility.

While the guidelines say cancer treatment is a top priority, they also say eggs can be removed and preserved after surgery in some breast cancer cases by delaying the start of chemotherapy.

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