Women: Cancer Treatment and Fertility Preservation

The good news is that more women are surviving cancer; the bad news is few are counseled about future fertility.

Women are surviving cancer today in record numbers. Now that oncologists have made such great strides toward effective treatment, we need to focus more on helping women prepare for their life beyond cancer.  Unfortunately, many of the most effective cancer treatments can damage a woman’s ovaries leaving them infertile or even induce premature menopause.

In 2006, the American Society for Clinical Oncologists published guidelines on discussing “fertility preservation”  (sperm freezing, egg freezing, and embryo freezing) with cancer patients. At that time they estimated that about 55,000 cancer patients per year were 35 or younger and should be offered options to prevent lifelong infertility. One of the concerns expressed by the panel at that time was that the cost of fertility preservation was prohibitive. Since that time, many organizations have taken steps to remove financial barriers by providing compassionate care options; making treatment widely accessible.

Recently, a group of women that had survived cancer treatment agreed to participate in a study investigating whether or not they had been counseled about fertility preservation prior to undergoing cancer treatment. Unfortunately, even though these women were between 18 and 40 years of age; only 61% had been counseled. They did find a more recent trend toward counseling then when the study began a decade ago. Most importantly, the women that had received counseling were far less likely to harbor regrets; even if they did not choose to freeze eggs or embryos prior to cancer therapy. In fact, women that discussed their options with a fertility specialist were most at peace with their decision and demonstrated the highest quality-of-life scores. So if you or someone you know has recently been diagnosed with cancer, consider scheduling a consultation with a reproductive endocrinologist. It’s a decision that will be appreciated over time.