The teenage years can be tough enough under the best of circumstances. But when cancer invades an adolescent’s life, the challenges grow exponentially.
When the prospects for treatment are uncertain, there’s the fear of dying at so young an age. Even with an excellent chance of being cured, teenagers with cancer face myriad emotional, educational and social concerns, especially missing out on activities and losing friends who can’t cope with cancer in a contemporary.
In an opinion issued this month, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists urged doctors to address the effects of cancer treatment on puberty, ovarian function, menstrual bleeding, sexuality, contraceptive choice, breast and cervical cancer screening, and fertility.
“With survival rates pretty high now for childhood cancers, we should do what we can to preserve future fertility,” said Dr. Julie Strickland, the chairwoman of the college’s committee on adolescent health care. “We’re seeing more and more cooperation between oncologists and gynecologists to preplan for fertility preservation before starting cancer treatment.”
The committee suggested that, when appropriate, young cancer patients be referred to a reproductive endocrinologist, who can explore the “full range of reproductive options,” including the freezing of eggs and embryos.
For boys who have been through puberty, it has long been possible to freeze sperm before cancer treatment.
Although some female patients may be unwilling to delay treatment, even for a month, to facilitate fertility preservation, at the very least they should be offered the option, Dr. Strickland said in an interview.
She described experimental but promising possibilities, like freezing part or all of an ovary and then implanting it after cancer treatment ends. It is already possible to move ovaries out of harm’s way for girls who need pelvic radiation.
RPMG is currently offering egg and embryo freezing on a quick protocol to not delay the start of chemotherapy or radiation. This is appropriate for girls who have gone through puberty and are having menstrual cycles. For pre-pubertal girls the only current option available is experimental, freezing of ovarian tissue which is done in only a very few centers in the country and requires surgery.