Aiming to reset the biological clock, British doctors are offering a procedure to delay menopause by 20 years or more.
The operation could spare women the common symptoms of hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings and decreased libido, plus more dire heart conditions and osteoporosis that can be brought on by menopause, they say.
“This is the first project in the world to provide healthy women ovarian tissue cryopreservation purely to delay the menopause,” said Yousri Afifi, chief medical officer at ProFam, the Birmingham-based company that offers the procedure.
The concept is straightforward. A small piece of ovarian tissue is removed from a young woman and frozen. Years from now, it’s thawed out and grafted back onto her body.
Reattached, the healthy ovarian tissue could restore falling hormone levels, help produce thousands of eggs and halt menopause by tricking the body into behaving younger than it is. The surgery is minimally invasive, and the tissue can stay frozen up to 20 years.
At age 22, Katie Corfield of Wales was one of the first women to undergo the procedure. Fewer than a dozen women so far have had the operation, which costs between £7,000 ($8,400 U.S.) and £11,000 ($13,200 U.S.) and is available to women up to age 40.
“It feels brilliant,” Corfield said in her first public interview. “It feels like I am one step ahead of everyone.”
Corfield had leukemia as a child and later was treated for endometriosis, which triggered hot flashes and mood swings, so she knows all too well what menopause could bring. She’s also at risk of it arriving as early as her 30s.
“I will delay it as much as possible so that I can focus on work and building a family and a life so I can be like most normal women and approach menopause at a more normal, older age,” she said. “I just think it’s like a safety blanket, really.”
The freezing, or cryopreservation, of ovarian tissue has been used for years for cancer patients and others at risk of infertility.
Evidence of its effective use to delay menopause is years away, when women start having the tissue reattached.
“This is very different,” said Dr. David Agus, a medical contributor to CBS News.
“For all we know it could change cancer risk,” he said. “It could change cognitive function later as you get older. We just don’t know the answer.”
Nor are women necessarily clamoring to get on board.
We should consider addressing menopause rather than pushing it away, wrote columnist Suzanne Moore in The Guardian.
“How about fixing all this cultural and social stuff?” she wrote. “How about making the menopause something that we talk about and assist women with?”
And a monologue by actress Kristin Scott Thomas on the BBC’s hit show “Fleabag” is enjoying renewed popularity as talk of delaying menopause has hit social media.
“Menopause comes, and it is the most wonderful f***ing thing in the world,” said her character Belinda.
“And yes, your entire pelvic floor crumbles and you get f***ing hot and no one cares, but then you’re free, no longer a slave, no longer a machine with parts. You’re just a person, in business.
“It is horrendous, but then it’s magnificent,” she said.