High-level talks are due to begin over giving cancer patients the chance to freeze their eggs and sperm on the NHS, in case their fertility is damaged by treatment, The Scotsman has learned.
Chemotherapy and radiotherapy can cause irreparable damage to fertility but scientific advances mean some patients can preserve their fertility by freezing eggs or sperm before the treatment starts.
Earlier this year, a female cancer survivor in Edinburgh became the first person in the UK to have a child using her ovarian tissue which had been frozen more than a decade before.
An expert working group will meet next week to create the first set of protocols in the UK for pre-treatment fertility preservation for patients with a range of serious medical conditions, public health minister Aileen Campbell confirmed.
The move was welcomed by Professor Richard Anderson, a clinical reproduction expert at Edinburgh University, who led the project where a cancer survivor gave birth using ovarian tissue that had been frozen more than a decade before.
He said: “I think it is a really important initiative and we have some meetings in the coming days to take it forward.
“It is very encouraging that the Scottish Government is being so forward-thinking about this.
“At the moment the service is fairly haphazard.
“What we would be looking for is a way of organising and funding access across health boards.”
However he warned there could issues around how to store tissue on a wider scale.
Tory public health spokesman Miles Briggs has been lobbying the Scottish Government to offer cancer patients the right to freeze sperm, eggs and embryos, which are fertilised eggs, ahead of treatment.
He said: “The ability of a women to get pregnant or maintain a pregnancy can be damaged by chemotherapy and radiation therapy cancer treatments.
“Too often I am hearing that for many young women and men facing a cancer diagnosis who want to have children in the future they do not know about the options they have to protect their fertility. The best time to preserve fertility is before cancer treatment starts.”
It comes ahead of a debate in Edinburgh next week about the importance and ethics of preserving fertility when there is a medical need.
Ms Campbell said: “It is important that patients going through cancer treatment have the choice to have children once their course is complete and fertility preservation can provide that opportunity, and allows them to focus on their on-going treatment.
“The first meeting of the newly convened Fertility Preservation sub group will take place next week and will look at developing protocols, guidelines, including patient access criteria for fertility preservation for referring and treating clinicians.”