Although cancer treatment can lead to infertility, women are much less likely to be informed of this complication or to receive information about fertility preservation options, according to the results of a study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.
Individuals who confront a cancer diagnosis at a younger age often must consider how cancer treatment will affect their ability to have children in the future. Some chemotherapy drugs can damage a woman’s eggs or a man’s sperm. Furthermore, some radiation and hormonal agents can harm fertility as well. Although it’s important to address this issue prior to beginning treatment, many physicians fail to provide adequate educational material or refer patients to fertility specialists. This is especially unfortunate as research indicates that early referral to a fertility specialist improves the chance of fertility preservation.
In this more recent study, researchers investigated gender differences regarding the perception of fertility-related information among patients undergoing cancer treatment at a reproductive age. The study included nearly 500 Swedish cancer survivors diagnosed between 2003 and 2007 and identified from population-based registers. The survivors were between the ages of 18 and 45 upon diagnosis and had lymphoma, acute leukemia, testicular cancer, ovarian cancer, or breast cancer. All patients had received chemotherapy during treatment.
The majority of male participants reported receiving treatment-related fertility information—80 percent of men said their doctor told them that chemotherapy could affect future fertility, compared with only 48 percent of women. Furthermore, 68 percent of men said they received information about fertility preservation, compared with 14 percent of women. More than half of men (54 percent) banked sperm prior to treatment, whereas only 2 percent of women underwent fertility preservation.
The researchers speculated that the disparity in fertility information could be related to the fact that preserving fertility is more complicated in women than men and techniques for doing so are not as widely available. They concluded that there is an urgent need to educate all patients about fertility options and especially to adapt fertility-related information for female patients in order to improve their opportunity to make informed decisions.
 Armuand GM, Rodriguez-Wallberg KA, Wettergren L, et al. Sex Differences in Fertility-Related Information Received by Young Adult Cancer Survivors. Journal of Clinical Oncology. Published early online May 14, 2012. doi: 10.1200/JCO.2011.40.6470
 Quinn G, Vadaparampil ST, Jacobsen P, et al. National survey of physicians practice patterns: Fertility preservation and cancer patients. Presented at the 2009 annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, May 29-June 2, 2009, Orlando, FL. Abstract CRA9508.
 Lee S, Ozkavukcu S, Heytens E, Moy F and Oktay K. Value of early referral to fertility preservation in young women with breast cancer. Journal of Clinical Oncology [early online publication]. September 17, 2010.