Today in the United States, there are nearly 14 million individuals who have overcome cancer. Although more than 70,000 young adult Americans ages 15-39 are diagnosed with cancer each year, the number of survivors is expected to increase by 30 percent in the next decade. This means there is a real need for patients to consider life after treatment and how to make survivorship as meaningful as possible.
The art of survivorship
An important first step in creating meaningful survivorship after cancer is talking to your health care team about the future. Many cancer survivors will tell you that with proper planning and a strong support system, life after cancer can be full of possibilities.
Before starting treatment, patients should have an honest conversation about their expectations. It can be overwhelming for patients to stop and think about the future when they are faced with cancer treatment decisions that will need to be made rapidly. However, simple questions such as “How will my cancer treatment affect my health in the future?” can have a big impact on future quality of life.
One of the most important topics of discussion for those diagnosed with cancer is the possibility of bearing children in the future. However, according to cancer survivors of childbearing age, fewer than half of patients recalled discussing fertility or the effects of their treatment on their future fertility upon being diagnosed with cancer.
In considering a cancer treatment plan, it is imperative to discuss fertility preservation options with your reproductive endocrinologist and oncologist prior to treatment. This is important because fertility can be impacted even after the first course of therapy. Fortunately, there are a variety of fertility preservation options available including egg freezing and embryo cryopreservation using in vitro fertilization (IVF).
“After a cancer diagnosis, patients can be uncertain about what the future will hold,” says Dr. Jane Ruman, Director of Medical Affairs and Reproductive Health at Ferring Pharmaceuticals Inc. “For many young adults, having or expanding their family is a lifelong dream. Talking with your doctor prior to cancer treatment is one of the best ways to increase your chances of making the dream of parenthood a reality.”
When having a conversation with your doctors, some questions you might ask, include:
• How will the treatment plan impact my fertility?
• Are there alternative treatments that could be less toxic to my reproductive health?
• What fertility preservation options are available to me?
Patient support resources
Navigating the dialogue around fertility preservation can be quite overwhelming. Given the changing landscape, it is important for individuals who are considering fertility preservation to be aware of the many different resources available to them:
• The Alliance for Fertility Preservation is an organization made up of cancer and reproductive professionals. Its mission is to promote dialogue between oncologists, reproductive medicine specialists, and patients in order to optimize cancer patients’ reproductive health expectations and quality of life related to fertility. More information about fertility preservation and options for both men and women can be found at www.allianceforfertilitypreservation.org.
• There are also financial support programs, such as Ferring’s Heart Beat program, that can help ease some of the financial burden associated with fertility preservation for eligible patients prior to cancer treatment.
Lastly, advocacy groups provide a great source of information and support for those considering fertility preservation. Organizations such as Fertile Action, LIVESTRONG Fertility and The Scott Hamilton CARES Initiative, and more, have detailed information about fertility preservation on their websites.