Fertility preservation in young cancer patients, an option people know little about

On repeated occasions, we have underlined the fact that doctors have a responsibility to the society they live in.  Part of this responsibility includes properly informing patients of their full options and associated risks when they are diagnosed with a serious illness.

Fertility preservation

A recent study has revealed that most young cancer sufferers whose fertility is put in jeopardy as a result of treatment do not know about fertility preservation, which could enable them to become parents in the future.

The study shows that 70% of 459 young people who were diagnosed between 2007 and 2008 stated that doctors had informed them of the risks associated with treatment and how this might affect their fertility.  However, fewer than 33% of men and 10% of women decided to undertake fertility preservation procedures.

Dr Magarett Shnorhavorian, research scientist and paediatric urologist at Seatle Children’s Research Institute, stated that in some cases women chose not to preserve their fertility so that cancer treatment would not be delayed further. However, she also stated that it was crucial for doctors to talk to and provide extensive information to their patients about the importance of fertility preservation.

The team, led by Shnorhavorian, conducted this study through a series of anonymous questionnaires based on a predominantly Caucasian population, comprising people aged up to 21. In addition, almost all the people who conducted the questionnaire had private healthcare.

All respondents said that they had been informed but the majority indicated that they had not seriously considered the option of fertility preservation, in many cases so as not to delay cancer treatment, or because they did not know enough about the procedure used to freeze gametes.

This research, published in the journal Cancer, was conducted just after the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) recommended in 2006 that all oncologists should routinely inform their patients at reproductive age about the risk of infertility.

Through this communication the association produced multiple guides (http://www.instituteforquality.org/fertility-preservation-patients-cancer-american-society-clinical-oncology-guideline-update) which currently provide doctors with more extensive information about fertility preservation, as noted by Dr Kutluk Oktay of the Innovation Institute for Fertility Preservation in New York. He also pointed out that patients and their relatives tend to be under a lot of pressure and feel extremely stressed in regard to cancer diagnosis, but that it is the doctor’s responsibility to ensure that information reaches patients and that patients give it full consideration.

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