Western Regional Blog – BC, YK, AB, NWT and Nunavut
“Only 60% of women with uterine cancers and 42% of women with ovarian cancers were told about the effects of treatment on fertility, despite having cancers of the reproductive system.”
IMNG Medical Media, 2013 Oct 16, N Osterweil
BOSTON (IMNG) – Less than half of all women of child-bearing age who are diagnosed with cancer discuss with their physicians the potential effects of cancer therapy on fertility, and even fewer are referred to reproductive specialists, investigators reported at the conjoint meeting of the International Federation of Fertility Societies and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.
A survey of 1,282 female survivors of various cancers showed that more than 50% did not have a discussion with their oncologists about the possible deleterious effects of chemotherapy or radiation on fertility, and few patients received referrals to reproductive specialists, said Penelope P. Howards, Ph.D., assistant professor of epidemiology at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health in Atlanta.
“In our cohort, which was women who were diagnosed between 1990 and 2009, a large proportion is not getting the message about how treatments may affect their fertility,” Dr. Howards said in an interview.
The likelihood that women would have been counseled about fertility varied by the type of cancer and by the typical treatment approach. For example, nearly 70% of women with cervical cancer said they had talked about fertility with their physicians, whereas women with cancers more typically managed by surgery – such as melanoma and thyroid cancer – were the least likely to be informed about potentially compromised fertility.
Only 60% of women with uterine cancers and 42% of women with ovarian cancers were told about the effects of treatment on fertility, despite having cancers of the reproductive system. Among women with breast cancer, the most common cancer type represented in the study, only 44% said they received fertility counseling.
Women who had at least one child by the time of diagnosis were less likely to be counseled than were women with no children (42% vs. 50%, respectively), and women aged 20-24 years were less likely to be informed about potentially compromised fertility than were women in their 30s, the investigators found.
Dr. Howards speculated that oncologists may assume that younger cancer patients are less likely to need counseling because they have a longer time to recover reproductive function than women who are approaching the age of menopause. Additionally, they may observe that young women who are rendered amenorrheic by cancer treatment may eventually resume menses, and wrongly assume that a return to menstruation indicates a return to full reproductive health.
Of those women who reported having a fertility discussion, 33% said they had initiated it themselves, 44% said that their oncologists had brought it up, and 23% said someone else initiated the discussion.
Dr. Howards and her colleagues searched the Georgia Cancer Registry to identify and interview women with a first diagnosis of cancer between the ages of 20 and 35 years. The interviews included questions about their reproductive histories, whether they had discussed with a clinician how cancer therapies might affect their fertility, and whether they had received a referral to a fertility specialist.
Factors that significantly predicted which women would be less likely to be counseled about infertility included having a child at diagnosis (adjusted odds ratio, 1.7), younger age at diagnosis (aOR, 1.5), being African American vs. white (aOR, 1.2), and not receiving chemotherapy or radiation (aOR, 3.1).
Of those women who did have a fertility discussion, only 6% of those with a child and 19% of those without children were referred to a fertility specialist.
An investigator who was not involved in the study said that the problem is not limited to women.
“With regard to men who get a diagnosis of cancer, we have seen that the discussion about their fertility status is not often had prior to getting a therapy that would affect their fertility status, such as chemotherapy, radiotherapy, or surgery,” said Dr. Anand Shridharani, a urologist at the Erlanger Health System in Chattanooga, Tenn.