Study finds chemotherapy drug combination may cause women to grow new eggs

Women treated with a common chemotherapy drug combination may cause them to subsequently grow more young eggs in their ovaries, according to a study conducted by the University of Edinburgh.

Therapy usually used to target Hodgkin’s lymphoma appears to boost the number of non-growing eggs in women’s ovaries.

According to researchers, it is too early to connect the outcome to fertility and believe more research is required to gain a better understanding of the findings and their implications.

The researchers analysed samples of ovary tissue donated by 14 women who had undergone chemotherapy, as well as by 12 healthy women.

The study found that ovaries from eight of the cancer patients, who had been treated with a drug combination known as ABVD, had greater incidence of immature or non-growing eggs compared with tissue from women who had received a different chemotherapy.

"This study involves only a few patients, but its findings were consistent and its outcome may be significant and far-reaching."

It was found that the ovary tissue was in a healthy condition, similar to tissue from young women’s ovaries.

School of Biological Sciences professor Evelyn Telfer said: “This study involves only a few patients, but its findings were consistent and its outcome may be significant and far-reaching. We need to know more about how this drug combination acts on the ovaries, and the implications of this.”

Further research could indicate the mechanism, by which treatment with ABVD results in increased production of eggs.

This will enable understanding of how women might be able to produce more eggs during their lifetime, as until recently it was thought to be impossible.

Scientists had set out to more effectively understand why treatment with ABVD is one of the few cancer drug combinations that does not affect women’s fertility.

Future studies will determine the separate impact of each of the four drugs that combine to make ABVD, known as adriamycin, bleomycin, vinblastine and dacarbazine, in order to understand the biological mechanisms.

The study was published in Human Reproduction and supported by the Medical Research Council.