One of the things that is often neglected by oncologists when treating both men and women with cancer is their reproductive future. This is especially true for young single women and men who are usually more concerned about their health than thinking about settling down and raising a family. If the patient doesn't bring up the topic the consultant might not either and so the chance of preserving genetic material for future use can be lost. When children are the ones with cancer the situation can be even worse as parents are not usually thinking that far ahead when it comes to having their child treated for cancer. They are concerned with having their child's life saved, not worrying about whether their young children are going to be able to have a family when they grow up. They just want their child to grow up.
According to research, less than 25% of oncologists discuss fertility preservation with their patients and only just over half of patients receive fertility information after their treatment. Lance Armstrong's LIVESTRONG Foundation is one of the organizations trying to change this and give cancer patients of all ages more information about fertility preservation. You can also find various fertility preservation programs at universities and hospitals throughout the country. For example, there is one based in the University of North Carolina, California's San Francisco Bay Area has a program, Illinois's Fertility Center has a Fast-track Fertility Preservation Program and there are other similar programs elsewhere.
Guidelines produced by the American Society of Clinical Oncology encourage oncologists to consider patients' fertility needs and refer them to fertility specialists before starting treatment. However, as a lot of the options are relatively new, and with cancer treatment time can be of the essence, fertility preservation is not always an oncologists first priority.
Various options are available for both men and women. For both adolescent and adult men sperm samples can be frozen for use, even up to 28 years later, which should be long enough for most people. Women in stable relationships often choose to have embryos frozen before going ahead with cancer treatment as this technology is more proven. However, for single women, recent advances in technology mean that they can have their eggs frozen instead and have a good chance of being able to have children from them later on.
Options For Children
However, these solutions aren't available for pre-pubescent children. One possible option for young girls is to have their ovaries temporarily removed during the cancer treatment, and restored afterwards. Another possibility is to take egg tissue and store it for future use. This is still at the experimental stage and no guarantees can be given. For young boys there is the possibility of taking sperm-forming stem cells and freezing them for the future. Of course, as reproductive technology improves and stem cell research increases, other possibilities may become available.
Plan For The Future
If you or a loved one are struggling with a cancer diagnosis don't' forget to discuss with your oncologist the effect the treatment may have on fertility. This is especially important if the cancer patient is a young child. Remember if you don't bring up the topic, the chances are neither will your oncologist. Your or your loved ones reproductive future is at stake!