Inform patients of the options Cancer treatments can affect the reproductive system in many ways, but not all cancers and cancer treatments will affect a patient’s fertility. The impact on one’s fertility may vary but often fall into the categories of normal, temporary, compromised, or permanent. Where a patient falls within these categories can help determine what options may be best for them: natural conception; medically assisted conception; donor eggs, embryos, or sperm; gestational surrogacy; or adoption. What is important to keep in mind is that while the path they imagined taking may be quite different, the destination is the same.

Provide patient referrals Regardless of medical expertise, the decision ultimately lies with the patient. However, information is paramount. The Oncofertility Consortium is a valuable resource for patient education that focuses on highlighting fertility issues and concerns. It maintains an additional website, Save My Fertility, where free pocket guides are available for both patients and providers.

Refer patients to reproductive specialists to help them explore fertility preservation; discuss available options; and assess risks, eligibility, and costs. Organizations such as Fertile Action and LIVESTRONG Fertility provide general information regarding financial assistance programs, discounted fertility preservation services, education, support, and advocacy. A collaborative effort from oncologists, reproductive endocrinologists, nurses, and oncology social workers can help empower patients with the knowledge needed to make an educated decision as part of their treatment plan and timeline.

Connect patients with support One of the many things we learn from a cancer diagnosis is that nothing is ever certain. No one can know for sure if cancer treatment will impact a patient’s ability to have a family; however, no one can be sure that it absolutely will not. One certainty is that patients are not alone. Many patients struggle with the uncertainties of cancer and the effects of treatment. They should be encouraged to seek support. They may find speaking with a professional oncology social worker can be extremely helpful. Those at CancerCare provide free services to help patients and their loved ones navigate the challenges that arise along with a cancer diagnosis. As difficult as it may be for them to remember, there are people out there who want to help. Whether through friends, family, professional counseling or support groups, finding somewhere to talk with people who understand can help patients feel less alone and build hope for the future that lies ahead.

Reference

1. Oktay KHarvey BE, Partridge AH, et al. Fertility preservation in patients with cancer: ASCO Clinical Practice Guideline update. J Clin Oncol. 2018;36(19):1994-2001.