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Study highlights fertility-related concerns of young cancer survivors

Cancer survivorship has been on my mind since writing a Stanford Medicine article on the topic. The (amazing) woman on whom my story focuses was in her late 30s and had two small children when she was diagnosed with lymphoma, and she has spent the last decade-plus living with the consequences of her disease and subsequent treatment. From her I learned of the great hurdles and challenges that can face survivors; pain, fatigue, depression, organ damage, sleep disruption, sexual dysfunction, cognitive disarray and financial struggles make up just a partial list of potential problems.

For people who are diagnosed at a younger age than the patient I featured, fertility is often also a real issue - and that's something explored by a recent paper in the Journal of Cancer Survivorship. UC San Francisco researchers studied the fertility-related concerns of a small group of female cancer survivors between the ages of 18 and 34 and identified six main themes from their discussions. Among them, as outlined by Medical News Today:

  • A hopeful but worried approach to fertility and parenthood: While participants expressed hope about having a family, many also felt anxious that they would be unable to have their own children.
  • Frustration with lack of choice or control over fertility: Even though the young women acknowledged that a discussion about fertility at the time of diagnosis would have been overwhelming, they felt strongly that they (or their parents) should have been told about both the impact of treatment on their fertility, and the options available before treatment to preserve fertility e.g. freezing eggs.
  • Young survivors want information about their fertility: Several women reported with regret that their doctors had not talked to them about fertility and they felt that a young woman was old enough to have this discussion anytime after puberty.

The researchers concluded, as others also have, that there's a need for medical professionals to provide young female survivors with information on their options and to offer help in "navigating both emotional and practical issues that arise when considering fertility and future parenthood." I hope clinicians hear the message: I know from researching and telling my cancer patient's story that survivors could truly benefit from additional support.

Previously: Unique challenges face young women with breast cancer, A need to provide infertility counseling to cancer patients, Programs help cancer patients at risk of losing their fertility
Photo by quinn.anya

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