It’s October, so if the world is looking decidely more rose-colored, it's not just your imagination - there's plenty of pink as far as the eye can see, in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
But there’s evidence that in spite of this veritable sea of pink, more awareness is still definitely needed, especially when it comes to young women with cancer who may want to start, or add to, their family: A 2010 study reported by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) found that women with cancer who didn’t have counseling about their fertility options were much more likely to feel regret later. (Fertility preservation options for pre-menopausal women with cancer can include freezing their eggs before starting chemotherapy or radiation, or creating embryos before starting cancer treatment.) “Female cancer survivors who do not receive counseling about options for fertility preservation prior to their cancer treatment commonly have long-term regret and a reduced satisfaction of life, compared with those who do receive the counseling or fertility preservation,” said a press release about the study, which also noted that about 70 percent of oncologists (doctors who specialize in treating cancer) talk about fertility with their patients, but less than one-quarter refer their patients to a fertility specialist.
According to the Fertility Preservation Program at Strong Fertility Center, at the University of Rochester Medical Center, in New York, more than 140,000 Americans under the age of 45 are diagnosed with cancer each year. The center works with men and women, both before and after treatment. Other possible options (much depends on your type of cancer and its stage; you'll need to talk to your oncology team to discuss what's right fo you) for women include ovarian suppression, in which a woman takes drugs during cancer treatment to help protect her ovaries, and ovarian transposition, in which the ovaries are surgically moved prior to radiation to minimize damage to them.
Check out the ASRM’s fact sheet [PDF] for patients on cancer and fertility preservation to learn more about your options. You can also read the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s 2006 recommendations for fertility preservation in cancer patients. Lastly, the LIVESTRONG organization’s fertileHOPE site offers information about financial and emotional assistance, and calculators for men and women to examine their choices. Your oncology team should be an essential resource, too, as you make the decision that's right for you.
Have you struggled with decisions about cancer and fertility? We'd like to hear your story, if so!