While it’s never good to receive a cancer diagnosis, today’s latest treatments often mean a long life as a cancer survivor. And, if you haven’t yet had children – or would like more – studies show that receiving pre-treatment fertility preservation counseling not only provides important information about options, it can also improve your quality of life. Currently, such counseling practice is not yet standard or widespread, but it should be.
Positive results come from pre-treatment fertility counseling, according to a study presented at the American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) annual meeting held last October. Kaiser and the University of California, San Francisco interviewed 139 women, average age 34 and newly diagnosed with cancer, at five different times following diagnosis and counseling. Results showed that women who received specialized counseling about reproductive loss and options for preserving their fertility had reduced anxiety, distress, and reproductive concerns. And, this effect lasted at least a year after treatment, with patients expressing less regret and a better quality of life.
Besides educating patients and couples about fertility preservation options for informed decision making, experts suggest there’s another important outcome: just discussing fertility issues at the same time as a cancer diagnosis sends a positive message to the patient and family that the oncology team believes in survival and a quality of life that may include children. Some studies show that the impact of potential loss of fertility on young women may sometimes be more stressful than the cancer diagnosis.
All patients with newly diagnosed cancer who are interested in having children should be assessed and receive information regarding the risk of treatment-related infertility. Those interested in fertility preservation should be referred to a specialist. Timing is important to fertility preservation and cancer treatment, calling for oncologists and reproductive oncologists to have relationships or networks for appropriate coordination and quick referrals.
Unfortunately, many patients do not receive appropriate counseling; many health professionals recognize this is a problem and acknowledge counseling should be standard practice.
Fertility counseling should include a detailed description of all the available techniques to preserve fertility appropriate for the individual patient, including timing, procedures, possible complications, and expected results. Choice among various techniques also depends on factors such as the patient’s age and ovarian reserve. It is critical that patients understand which techniques are well-established and what is still considered experimental. An informed choice on any preservation strategy can only be made after a full discussion with your doctor of risks, success rates and cost. To learn more about available fertility preservation techniques, read here.
There’s more work to be done to improve and expand pre-treatment fertility preservation counseling, according to ASRM President Richard J. Paulson, MD. “Providing fertility preservation counseling and services for adults and children diagnosed with cancer can make a significant difference in their future quality of life. More funding, professional education, and consensus guidelines aimed at the multi-disciplinary nature of these treatments are needed to expand fertility preservation opportunities to all patients who need them.”
By improving the state of counseling through oncologists and fertility specialists working together, we can take aim at successfully achieving two important goals: beating cancer and becoming a parent.