Many women with cancer missing fertility risk info, services

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Few women of childbearing age who are diagnosed with cancer are taking steps to preserve their fertility during treatment, and sociodemographic health disparities likely affect access to fertility preservation services, according to recent study findings.

A total of 1,041 women who had been diagnosed with leukemia, Hodgkin disease, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, breast cancer, or GI cancer from 1993 to 2007, when the patients were 18 to 40 years old, responded to a retrospective survey on demographic information and reproductive health history. Of the respondents, 918 reported undergoing treatment that had the potential to affect fertility: chemotherapy, pelvic radiation, pelvic surgery, or bone marrow transplant.

Overall, only 4% of women pursued fertility preservation, but those rates had increased over time: Whereas just 1% of these patients pursued fertility preservation in 1993, 6% did so in 2005 and 10% did so in 2007. Nearly two-thirds (61%) of the women stated that their oncology team had counseled them on the fertility risks of cancer treatment.

Multivariate analyses of the responses revealed that the women who were childless, younger, Caucasian, heterosexual, and college graduates were more likely than other participants to receive counseling regarding the fertility risks posed by cancer treatment or to preserve fertility before cancer treatment.

“Although awareness of fertility preservation has improved in the past decade, an unmet need remains for reproductive health counseling and fertility preservation in reproductive-age women diagnosed with cancer,” concluded study authors Mitchell P. Rosen, MD, of the University of California, San Francisco, and colleagues, in their report for Cancer.

 

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