Women who face the heartbreak of losing their fertility after toxic cancer treatment have been given some hope by scientists who have found a way to stop them from being robbed of motherhood during gruelling chemotherapy.
This breakthrough is expected to end the tragedy of thousands of women who are every year made to make the dreadful choice of whether to save themselves or face the prospect of never having a child.
According to background information in a research paper on this advance, powerful chemotherapy and radiotherapy drugs often leave women infertile, and only some women have time to freeze their embryos for later use.
However, researchers at the University of Rome have now gained significant insights into how chemotherapy stops fertility, reports the Daily Express.
They have also discovered a potential way to prevent the damage being done by using a well-known drug.
The researchers describe infertility as a major side-effect in young patients having cancer treatment because of the sensitivity of a woman's eggs to the anti-cancer drugs.
Although it is possible for women to have their eggs frozen before cancer treatment starts, the thawing process often causes damage which prevents them being fertilised.
Because they are so potent, chemotherapy drugs can destroy follicles in the ovaries, wiping out any possibility of women having children.
Writing about their findings in the journal Nature Medicine, the University of Rome researchers have revealed that cisplatin, a common chemotherapy drug, activates a signalling pathway in female mouse eggs that can kill them.
According to them, treatment with cisplatin destroys the eggs by activating an enzyme known as c-Abl.
The drug imatinib, better known as Glivec - a "magic bullet" leukaemia drug - has been found to stop the egg death caused by cisplatin.
The researchers say that this finding raises the possibility of using it to preserve the eggs, and therefore fertility during chemotherapy.
They add that the drug has already been found to work well against prostate, lung, skin and bowel cancer.