Picture the scene: you’re a 16 year-old-girl diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. You’re discussing treatment options with your doctor, you’re trying to understand the nature of your particular illness, you’re thinking about how to tell your friends at college, about how this might impact your chances of going to university, about losing your hair…the list of worries goes on.
You’re not necessarily thinking about your future two-point-four family.
But due to the nature of many cancer treatments, it’s exactly these (sometimes faraway) thoughts of prospective fertility that need to be addressed immediately at cancer diagnosis. Unfortunately, studies have shown that very often women feel unable to make longer-term fertility decisions in the hurried time between diagnosis and treatment. More worryingly, many women have expressed that they weren’t even aware of the impact that things like chemotherapy can have on fertility.
Thinking about fertility options
According to research presented at the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology in Geneva yesterday, women who survived cancer in the last 30 years were a third less likely to become pregnant than women in the general population. These findings not only highlight the need for better access to new procedures aiming to preserve fertility, but also how important it is to talk about fertility during counselling.
‘Cancer, Fertility and Me’ is a unique study funded by Yorkshire Cancer Research that aims to push the question of fertility to the forefront of patients’ minds. We have produced a booklet that is helping women diagnosed with any form of cancer – where treatment is an option – to fully understand their choices in terms of protecting future fertility.
When it comes to thinking of fertility after cancer diagnosis most women have three choices. They can freeze their eggs or embryos, take drugs to suppress their oestrogen production to reduce egg destruction, or choose to do nothing at all (as not all treatment will affect long-term fertility). We believe it is vital that women get to make these choices in good time to avoid the often distressing outcome of infertility in later life.
Undoubtedly, a cancer diagnosis can set a lot of questions whirring in your mind – but that might not include thinking about your future fertility. By funding this study we’re hoping to create a resource that means that these issues don’t get over-looked in the chaos of a diagnosis. We want to collect data that enables us to help patients feel more informed and supported before their referral to a fertility expert. For more information on the Cancer, Fertility and Me study please click here.