WASHINGTON — The treatment beating back the cancer of 9-year-old Dylan Hanlon of Pasco County may also be destroying his chances of fathering his own children when he grows up.
Upset that doctors didn't make that risk clear, his mother, Christine, found an experiment that could salvage Dylan's future fertility. Between chemo sessions, the pair flew hundreds of miles from their home in Holiday to try it.
Many of the cancer treatments that can save patients' lives also may cost their ability to have babies later in life. Young adults have options — bank some sperm, freeze embryos or eggs. Children diagnosed before puberty don't.
With childhood cancer survival reaching 80 percent, there's a growing need to find ways to preserve these youngsters' fertility — and patients like Dylan are on the front edge of research that's banking testicular cells and ovarian tissue to try.
"There are viable options, and they are on the doorstep," said Dr. Kyle Orwig of the University of Pittsburgh. He leads the study Dylan joined to store the stem cells boys harbor that later will produce sperm. Eventually, the cells will be transplanted back.
It may sound odd to discuss fertility issues still decades away even as parents agonize over whether a child will live or die.
Yet it can be hopeful: "We expect they'll live that long," said Dr. Teresa Woodruff of Northwestern University's Oncofertility Consortium, who works with girls' ovarian tissue.
Researchers say several dozen boys and girls, including some babies, so far are part of these early-stage experiments at a handful of medical centers.
Without any guarantees, Dylan's mother, Christine Hanlon, rests easier knowing "that I'm doing all I can do" for his future.
A lump in Dylan's chest turned out to be Ewing's sarcoma, a rare cancer, fortunately caught early. Nine months of chemotherapy began in September. His mother was told his prognosis is good.
In December, Christine Hanlon found information from the patient advocacy group Fertile Hope that revealed Dylan's chemo bears a high risk of infertility. She began hunting options.
An only child, Dylan "loves babies. He told me one day he was going to have 10 kids," Hanlon said.
She tracked down Orwig, who oversees a multi-hospital program called Fertility Preservation in Pittsburgh that offers services to men, women, boys and girls.
Dylan joked, "So Ma, I'll be a guinea pig?" Hanlon said he easily agreed.