Operation to allow cancer boy to be a father later in life

Charlie, six, is currently being treated at Edinburgh's Royal Hospital for Sick Children. Picture: Jon Savage
Charlie, six, is currently being treated at Edinburgh's Royal Hospital for Sick Children. Picture: Jon Savage
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A six-year-old brain cancer patient has become one of the first boys in Europe to receive a state-of-the-art procedure which means he will be able to father children later in life.

Charlie, from Aberdeen, is currently being treated at Edinburgh’s Royal Hospital for Sick Children.

Over a five-month period he has received 31 sessions of radiotherapy to treat his brain tumour – and he is currently in the middle of a four-session radiotherapy schedule.

Such drastic treatment on a prepubescent boy can cause infertility in later life. But in a ground-breaking procedure Charlie underwent surgery last month to remove a piece of testicular tissue. This has been frozen, and can be re-implanted later in life when Charlie reaches adulthood – allowing him to have children.

The family, who have asked not to be fully identified, have said the treatment offers some hope for Charlie’s future.

His mother said: “We are making a decision on his behalf, because he’s too young, but compared to all the other things it is quite minor. Your immediate worry is, ‘Is Charlie going to be cancer-free?’ The fact the doctors put him forward for the fertility treatment suggests they are positive for his outcome.”

She added: “He may not be infertile, he may never want children, but the treatment’s a failsafe. As they explained, there are no guarantees, but for us it would be 20-odd years in the future and who knows?

“Even if it just benefits the technology and helps other people that would be good.”

Charlie’s mother has taken time off from her work as an environmental adviser to an oil company to care for him, while his father, a drilling engineer, has left his job to care for him. His mother explained that, whilst they have no qualms about the procedure, they did not discuss it at length with their son.

She said: “With these procedures if you tell him too much he gets wound up about them.”

Rod Mitchell – a clinical fellow at Edinburgh’s MRC Centre for Reproductive Health – said that fertility treatment for boys have lagged behind for years. He emphasised the importance of closing the gap, now that most children survive childhood cancer.

“Charlie’s parents recognised that. Patients, parents see it as as a really optimistic thing for the future”, he said.