Young adults diagnosed with cancer face no shortage of life decisions. But the Livestrong Foundation wants to make sure that cancer survivors are considering another choice they may have thought to be far off – having kids.
A new survey from the organization is asking cancer patients ages 15 to 39 whether they were informed about fertility risks and options during diagnosis or treatment. Aditi Narayan, program manager for the foundation’s research team, says that they’re looking into why patients aren’t hearing about reproductive impacts.
“About 40 to 80 percent of women and 30 to 75 percent of men who are diagnosed with cancer during their reproductive years in the United States will be at risk for infertility,” Narayan says. “However, less than 50 percent of that population report discussing fertility as a concern with their health team. So we are trying to better understand why individuals are not hearing about their potential risks to infertility, and how can we increase the number of people that do learn about their risks before they start treatment.”
While the impact of cancers that occur within the reproductive organs may pose a more obvious risk to fertility, Narayan says that some patients aren’t being informed about how their particular form of cancer could interfere with conception.
“You wouldn’t necessarily think that individuals who have breast cancer, where it’s in your chest, that they would be at risk, but many of them are,” she says.
Narayan says the goal of the organization is to make sure every patient knows their options – whether they want to use them or not.
“I think for us, we just want individuals to have that information and make the decision themselves,” Narayan says. “So if 100 percent of people know that they may be at risk for infertility before or after cancer, but they choose to do nothing about it, we’re totally okay with that. But our goal is to make sure that 100 percent of people who are at risk or may be at risk, do know that information.”
She says that for young patients who haven’t yet considered parenthood, different forms of treatment and preservation can give them more time to make a decision.
“When you’re 15, you may not necessarily know whether you want to have children or not have children biologically, but if you have the option to preserve your fertility, either egg or embryo freezing or sperm banking, then you can make that decision at a later time and still have that option,” Narayan says.
Fertility preservation is often accompanied by a steep price tag, but patients looking for more affordable options can apply for discounted services through the Livestrong Fertility program.
Written by Lila Weatherly.