Young female patients with cancer unhappy with fertility discussions

Young female patients with cancer are unhappy about the way fertility-preservation options are discussed with them by doctors before starting cancer treatment, according to a new study.

Only 40% of young female patients with cancer were found to be happy with the way their doctors discussed their options before undergoing chemotherapy or radiotherapy. These treatments can have a harmful effect on a patient's fertility.

Researchers from the University of Sheffield and The Children's Hospital Sheffield, both in the United Kingdom, asked 290 patients with cancer anonymously about their views. These were patients who attended support-group conferences in 2004 and 2011. The patients were both male and female and were aged 13 to 22 years.

The study, published in Pediatric Blood and Cancer (2013; doi:10.1002/pbc.24672), revealed that, in 2004, just 38% of young female patients recalled their doctor talking to them about fertility-preservation options, such as egg freezing, before starting treatment. In 2011, this number grew significantly to 69%. However, a staggering 50% of patients were unhappy about the discussion, which was effectively the same as in 2004.

“Whilst we have been banking sperm for cancer patients for over 30 years, we are only just able to start offering fertility preservation for females by banking eggs. However, unfortunately, this is more complex to perform and is not a realistic option if cancer treatment cannot be delayed,” said Allan Pacey, PhD, a fertility expert from the University of Sheffield.

Researchers also discovered that the majority of young male patients with cancer (64%) were broadly happy with what was discussed with them. This was roughly the same as the percentage who recalled their doctors talking through fertility issues with them before their cancer treatment started.

“Young people have a fundamental right to be made aware of the fertility problems cancer treatments can cause,” said Simon Davies, chief executive of Teenage Cancer Trust. “Fertility is something many young people won't even have considered yet, and it is incredibly important that these issues are discussed and that all options are understood. Health professionals have a duty to give clear information about all the long-term effects of treatments, and hopefully this work will help keep this front of mind for those working with young people with cancer."

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