Ovarian and uterine characteristics after total body irradiation in childhood and adolescence: response to sex steroid replacement


Correspondence: Dr L. E. Bath, Lecturer, Department of Child Life and Health, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK.


Objective To study the effect of total body irradiation (14.4 Gray) in childhood and adolescence on ovarian and uterine characteristics, and to investigate the response to physiological sex steroid serum concentrations.

Design All long term post-pubertal female survivors of total body irradiation who had been treated in paediatric centres in Scotland were identified. Their ovarian and uterine characteristics were studied.

Setting Recruitment was from follow up oncology clinics.

Sample Nine women were identified, eight of whom were assessed and five progressed to detailed investigation. A control population of 12 women treated for acute leukaemia, but not treated with total body irradiation, and five healthy women with no history of childhood malignancy were recruited as controls.

Methods Ovarian function was determined by measurement of serum gonadotrophins and sex steroids. Uterine response to physiological sex steroid replacement was investigated in women with ovarian failure, and to endogenous sex steroid production in women with ovarian function by ultrasound scan. The physiological sex steroid replacement was achieved with transdermal oestradiol patches and self administered vaginal progesterone pessaries.

Main outcome measures Determination of ovarian function and uterine response to physiological sex steroid serum concentrations.

Results Six of eight women treated with total body irradiation had ovarian failure; preservation of function was seen in two girls treated pre-pubertally who had biochemical evidence of incipient ovarian failure. Four women with ovarian failure had reduced uterine volume, undetectable blood supply and absent endometrium at baseline assessment; after three months of physiological sex steroid replacement treatment uterine blood supply and endometrial response were not significantly different from controls; uterine volume improved but remained significantly smaller than controls and correlated with age at total body irradiation.

Conclusions Ovarian failure after total body irradiation is common and risk relates to age at treatment. Physiological sex steroid replacement improved uterine measures and these women may benefit from assisted reproductive technology.