Cancer Treatment and Fertility: Know Your Options

A Patient Care Advocate specializing in Fertility Preservation & Treatment shares some thoughts on Oncofertility

When a close relative or loved one is diagnosed with cancer, the news can be devastating. You fear their survival and the quality of their future. When my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, I was 15 and very afraid. At the time, my two sisters and I, were her only source of emotional support. Helping her travel to oncologist appointments, translating medical verbiage between English and Spanish and caring for her mental health, to name just a few things, became our main responsibility. Looking back now eleven years later, I wonder, what if we weren’t there? During her battle with breast cancer, having three daughters around was more important than ever to my mother.

There are myriad reasons why people desire to have children. Whether it’s to continue their family lineage, have someone care for them during an illness or share joyous moments with their little human, the right to procreate is valid. However, the ability to have children may not be feasible for all. With a cancer diagnosis, the chance of conceiving significantly declines. Cancer does not directly cause infertility, but the treatments do. Cancer drugs like chemotherapy, and radiation, can permanently damage reproductive organ functioning even after one treatment.

Doctors are seldom informing their patients about fertility preservation, leaving survivors of reproductive age sterile and without options. One reason may be that surviving cancer becomes the main priority where treatment must be administered promptly.

Ethnicity, education, sexual orientation and age are also barriers that affect accessibility. White heterosexual women who are younger, had graduated college and were childless are more likely to be informed of the option to preserve fertility. They’re also more likely to move forward with preserving.

According to Dr. Mitchell Rosen at UCSF, “There is a large unmet need for fertility preservation.” The $20,000 cost to preserve fertility is not covered by insurance, and often considered cosmetic. However, insurance companies are more likely to pay for reconstructive surgeries after procedures like a mastectomy.

Even when fertility preservation for women is achieved, post-cancer treatment can render a woman’s uterus inhospitable. But, gestational carriers/surrogates can provide hope. Now more than ever women have multiple options in oncofertility. But, Accessibility is still scarce.

February is cancer prevention month and many are on the mission to increase awareness. As organizations promote empowering individuals and advocating for governments to enable access to palliative care, we should aim to do the same for the developing discipline of oncofertility. As Millennials delay parenthood and cancer becomes more prevalent, the need for preserving fertility will only increase. To help others maintain the hope of becoming parents after cancer treatment, resources and education need investing.