It was not that long ago that this was a subject that was not even discussed because most cancer patients going into chemotherapy or radiation were focused on survival, not quality of life. Today, fortunately, cancer treatments have improved so much that people are concerned about quality of life; i.e. living with cancer rather than just living from cancer.
In fact in Canada there was recently a conference about fertility issues for cancer patients, one of the many quality of life issues. An information session at the conference is raising awareness and money to help cancer patients whose treatment can make it impossible to have children.
“I would say probably 10 to 15 per cent of my patient population is under the age of 40,” said Dr. Erin Powell, an oncologist at the H. Bliss Murphy Cancer Centre. She says when women come to see her, “weeks have passed since their diagnosis, and that’s precious time for fertility preservation techniques.”
Dr. Deanna Murphy, a fertility specialist in St. John’s, says she typically gets five to 10 referrals a year. Measures have to be taken before chemotherapy starts, Powell explained. Chemotherapy often has to start within a week of her seeing a patient. “One of the reasons why we’re doing the event is to raise awareness,” she said.
Procedures for fertility preservation can take four to six weeks, including travel if services are not available locally, “so the time is really critical.” Murphy said most of the uptake has been with breast cancer patients, who may have a little more time to make arrangements.
Fortunately in our community we can offer fertility preservation services to all patients who want to consider it, including cancer patients. In fact we have rapid protocols for egg and embryo freezing for cancer patients who have limited time before needing to start chemo or radiotherapy.
What’s vital is that they be aware of the existence of these services so they can take advantage of them efficiently before it’s too late.