Sounds Scary, Maybe Isn't: There's A New Surgery To Postpone Menopause
3 min read
By Dana Wood | October 22, 2019
Question of the day: If you could postpone menopause for up to two decades, would you leap at the chance? What if it required a surgical procedure that entailed having a section of your ovaries snipped-out and cryogenically frozen, then re-implanted once your hormones start to peter out?
This past August, news outlets were aflutter with tales of 10 British women who'd opted to make like menopause guinea pigs and put tiny snippets of their ovaries on ice.
The experimental surgery, open to (presumably healthy) women under age 40, was developed by ProFaM (Protecting Family and Menopause), an ovarian tissue cryopreservation service based in Birmingham, United Kingdom.
According to the company's website, ProFaM is a collaboration among industry, England's National Health Service, the University of Birmingham and the U.K.'s Human Tissue Authority. It's headed up by Simon Fishel, a British physiologist and biochemist who is considered an expert in the fertility field.
While ovarian cryopreservation isn't new - a version of the procedure has been used since the early 2000s by cancer patients seeking to safeguard their future fertility - the notion that it can now be deployed by healthy women who simply want to postpone the inevitable is a decidedly 2019 turn of events.
Blame it on our 21st century longevity; today, thanks to advances in modern medicine, women can expect to live in a postmenopausal state for decades. For some particularly robust females, the three stages of menopause - peri, meno, and post - could even exceed the period-having, possibly baby-making, fertile phase of their lives.
That's a lot of hot flashes. And perhaps more ominously (although hot flashes are, without question, a quality of life-destroying scourge on our sex), that's also a lot of potential osteoporosis and heart disease.
When stories about the procedure and its new target - cancer-free, young women - popped up in the news last month, reactions were mixed. While some women were elated that there might be a way to stave off years of hormone replacement therapy, others balked at the price, which ranges from £7,000 to £11,000, with re-implantation (or "regraft") of the excised tissue. At current exchange rates, that's roughly $8,500 to $13,500.
But the much larger issue with this new option for postponing menopause, far beyond its cost, is the long-term safety. As of now, the jury is still very much out on that. So, as with so many other decisions women face regarding their health, do we roll the dice on an experimental surgical procedure just to delay what Mother Nature has in store for us?
Additionally, the promise of the delay is for up to 20 years - not a guarantee of 20 years. The rate of delay time is dependent on the age of the person when the tissue is harvested. "Tissue taken from a 25-year-old might postpone the menopause for 20 years, while that taken from a 40-year-old might only delay its onset for five years, according to The Guardian.
While she finds the possibility of postponing menopause intriguing, Pause founder and CEO Rochelle Weitzner isn't convinced it's ultimately optimal to start the whole change of life process when we're older.
"Do we really want to begin menopause at 70? Personally, if I have to go through it at all, I want to do it earlier when I'm stronger, rather than later when it may be really difficult," Weitzner says. "But if we can regraft tissue a few times, and delay menopause forever, I'm in."
Since no one is talking about that possibility, it must not be a viable option...yet. Fingers crossed.