Young female cancer patients unhappy with fertility discussions

  • Only 40 per cent of women happy with fertility discussions with their doctor compared to 64 per cent of men
  • Sperm banking has been available for over 30 years
  • Egg freezing has only just become available

Steph was diagnosed with with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia age 19Young female cancer patients are unhappy about the way fertility preservation options are discussed with them by doctors before starting cancer treatment, according to a new study by researchers from the University of Sheffield and The Children's Hospital, Sheffield.

The pioneering study discovered that only 40 per cent of young female cancer patients were happy with the way their doctors discussed the options they had to preserve fertility, before undergoing chemotherapy or radiotherapy which can have a harmful effect on a patient's fertility.

Researchers conducted the ground breaking study by asking 290 young cancer patients attending support group conferences organised by the Teenager Cancer Trust in 2004 and 2011.

Their views were collected anonymously using Who wants to be a millionaire? style handsets to answer questions projected onto a big screen. All questions were answered by both male and female cancer patients aged between 13 and 22 years old who had been treated for a variety of cancers in UK hospitals.

Steph Hayter, 23, from Hampshire was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia age 19. She said: “Having a family has always been important to me so when the doctors told me the treatment would damage my fertility I was devastated.

"I knew I needed to start treatment quickly but it would have been nice to be given some choice in the matter or at least the chance to talk to a fertility expert.

"Neither was offered and I felt like I had lost all control. It was as if health professionals didn’t think that it was a big deal because I was just a teenager; that made me feel silly for being so upset”.

The findings, published in Pediatric Blood and Cancer, revealed that in 2004 just 38 per cent of young female patients recalled their doctor talking to them about fertility preservation opinions, such as egg freezing, before starting treatment.

Dr Allan PaceyIn 2011 this number grew significantly to 69 per cent; however a staggering 50 per cent of patients were unhappy about the discussion –effectively the same as in 2004.

Dr Allan Pacey, a fertility expert from the University of Sheffield's Department of Human Metabolism, said: "Fertility issues are important for cancer patients because some chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatments can lead to infertility. 

"Whilst we have been banking sperm for cancer patients for over 30 years, we are only just able to start offering fertility preservation for females by banking eggs. However, unfortunately this is more complex to perform and is not a realistic option if cancer treatment cannot be delayed."

Researchers also discovered that the majority of young male cancer patients (64 per cent) were broadly happy with what was discussed with them with roughly the same percentage recalling their doctors talking through fertility issues with them before their cancer treatment started.

Dr Dan Yeomanson, Consultant Pediatric Oncologist for Sheffield Children's NHS Foundation Trust, said: "This Cancer survivor Steph Hayterstudy highlights the need to discuss fertility issues with young patients, especially females, before treatment begins even if there are no options available for fertility preservation.

"Given the wealth of information that needs to be given before treatment begins, it is easy to see why fertility issues are sometimes not handled as well as they could be. While all oncologists aim to provide the best possible care to teenagers and young adults, this study has highlighted some important gaps which are clearly of key significance to patients."

The researchers suggest that collecting data in this way serves a bellwether providing an overview of practice across the UK and calls for a rethink of how fertility issues are discussed with young people diagnosed with cancer, both in terms of timing of discussions and their content.

The authors intend to conduct the survey again in 2018 with the same age group to see if the situation has improved.

Simon Davies, Chief Executive of Teenage Cancer Trust said: "Young people have a fundamental right to be made aware of the fertility problems cancer treatments can cause.

"Fertility is something many young people won't even have considered yet and it is incredibly important that these issues are discussed and that all options are understood. Health professionals have a duty to give clear information about all the long term effects of treatments and hopefully this work will help keep this front of mind for those working with young people with cancer."

Additional information

Teenage Cancer Trust
Around seven young people aged between 13 and 24 are diagnosed with cancer every day in the UK. They need expert treatment and support from the moment they hear the word ‘cancer.’ Teenage Cancer Trust are the only charity dedicated to making this happen.
TCT

Sheffield Children's Hospital
Sheffield Children's

The University of Sheffield
With nearly 25,000 of the brightest students from 117 countries coming to learn alongside 1,209 of the world’s best academics, it is clear why the University of Sheffield is one of the UK’s leading universities. Staff and students at Sheffield are committed to helping discover and understand the causes of things - and propose solutions that have the power to transform the world we live in.

A member of the Russell Group, the University of Sheffield has a reputation for world-class teaching and research excellence across a wide range of disciplines. The University of Sheffield has been named University of the Year in the Times Higher Education Awards 2011 for its exceptional performance in research, teaching, access and business performance. In addition, the University has won four Queen’s Anniversary Prizes (1998, 2000, 2002, 2007), recognising the outstanding contribution by universities and colleges to the United Kingdom’s intellectual, economic, cultural and social life.

One of the markers of a leading university is the quality of its alumni and Sheffield boasts five Nobel Prize winners among former staff and students. Its alumni have gone on to hold positions of great responsibility and influence all over the world, making significant contributions in their chosen fields.
Research partners and clients include Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Unilever, Boots, AstraZeneca, GSK, Siemens, Yorkshire Water and many more household names, as well as UK and overseas government agencies and charitable foundations.

The University has well-established partnerships with a number of universities and major corporations, both in the UK and abroad. The White Rose University Consortium (White Rose) a strategic partnership between 3 of the UK's leading research universities of Leeds, Sheffield and York. Since its creation in 1997 White Rose has secured more than £100M into the Universities.

Contact

For further information please contact:

Amy Pullan
Media Relations Officer
The University of Sheffield
0114 222 9859
a.l.pullan@sheffield.ac.uk