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More Young Men Than Young Women Take Steps to Preserve Fertility Before Cancer Treatment

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Some cancer treatments, including chemotherapy and hormonal therapy, can cause temporary or permanent infertility. Earlier studies have found that in many cases doctors weren’t giving young people, especially young women, enough information about fertility problems that could happen because of cancer treatments and weren’t referring cancer patients to fertility specialists for counseling before treatment.

Now a study has found young men diagnosed with cancer were 4 to 5 times more likely to take steps to preserve fertility than young women diagnosed with cancer.

The study was published online on July 27, 2015 by the journal CANCER. Read the abstract of “Fertility preservation knowledge, counseling, and actions among adolescent and young adult patients with cancer: A population-based study.”

In the study, the researchers sent questionnaires to 459 adolescents and young adults who were diagnosed with cancer between 2007 and 2008. The questionnaires asked whether the people’s doctors had talked to them about how treatment would affect fertility and fertility preservation options, as well as whether they had taken steps to preserve their fertility.

The results:

  • More than 70% of the people diagnosed with cancer said their doctors told them that treatment might affect their fertility.
  • Males were more than twice as likely as females to report that their doctors talked about fertility preservation options with them.
  • About 33% of males said they had taken steps to preserve their fertility.
  • Only about 7% of females said they had taken steps to preserve their fertility.
  • People without insurance and people who were raising children were more likely not to ask their doctors about fertility preservation.
  • Men receiving treatment that posed little or no risk to fertility were also less likely to ask about fertility preservation.
  • Men without a college degree, who didn’t have private insurance, and who were raising children were less likely to take steps to preserve their fertility; too few women had taken steps to preserve their fertility for the researchers to do the same analysis.

"The access and health-related reasons for not making arrangements for fertility preservation reported by participants in this study further highlight the need for decreased cost, improved insurance coverage, and partnerships between cancer healthcare providers and fertility experts to develop strategies that increase awareness of fertility preservation options and decrease delays in cancer therapy as fertility preservation for adolescent and young adult cancer patients improves," said Margarett Shnorhavorian, M.D. of the University of Washington and lead author of the study.

If you're a premenopausal woman who's been diagnosed with breast cancer, the ability to have children after breast cancer treatment may be important to you. Still, it's very likely that a breast cancer diagnosis and treatment may push thoughts about future fertility (and many other things) to the back of your mind.

But while you and your doctor are planning your treatment is the best time to figure out how specific treatments might affect your fertility and learn about steps you can take to improve your chances of having a child in the future. For example, eggs from your ovaries can be extracted and stored until your treatment is completed.

If you're about to start breast cancer treatment and being able to have a child in the future is important to you, be sure to tell your doctor. Ask your doctor how any treatments being considered could affect your future fertility. If the treatments that are best for you could cause fertility problems, it's a good idea to ask your doctor about steps you can take to preserve your fertility. You also may want to ask for a referral to a fertility specialist.

You can learn more about breast cancer treatment and infertility issues in the Fertility and Pregnancy Issues During and After Breast Cancer pages.

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