The Shocking Thing We Don't Tell Young Female Cancer Survivors

Photographed by Tayler Smith.
As if having cancer weren't bad enough, undergoing treatment for the disease can have a profound effect on fertility. But even worse than that is the fact that many young women who have survived cancer aren't told about those fertility effects, a new study finds.

For the study, published online today in the journal Cancer, researchers gave 346 young women an anonymous online survey. The participants' average age was 30, and they had all completed cancer treatment an average of five years before the survey. Of those participants, 179 reported that they had not gone through any fertility preservation (e.g. egg- or embryo-freezing) before or after their treatment, but that they were either interested in having children or unsure. The researchers found that although two thirds of these women were concerned about their ability to have children later on, many of them reported receiving sub-par information about fertility topics.
After analyzing all the responses, the researchers found that these women weren't well-informed about their the risk for infertility and early menopause, nor did they know enough about their options for evaluating their fertility status, preserving fertility, or other family-building strategies. Only 13% of participants said they had received sufficient information about their fertility options.

"The potential loss of fertility has been described in the literature as being almost as painful, if not more so, than the cancer diagnosis itself," said Catherine Benedict, PhD, lead author on the study, in a press release. But it's also difficult to know exactly how treatment will affect each person. "Many women will maintain fertility after treatment," Dr. Benedict told Fox News, "but will experience menopause and infertility at an early age, with no certainty about when this may occur."

Despite this uncertainty, there are things young female cancer survivors can do to improve their chances for starting a family when they are ready. But they can only do these things if they know about them, and it's on healthcare practitioners to be the ones to start these tough conversations.

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