How can people communicate with doctors about fertility and cancer before treatment?

How can people communicate with doctors about fertility and cancer before treatment?

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Jill Trainer, MSW, LCSW  
Patient Navigator, Division of Fertility Preservation 
Oncofertility Consortium 
Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University

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If an oncologist has not discussed fertility preservation with a cancer patient, I would tell the cancer patient to bring it up with their oncologist. The number one thing that they need to ask is, “How is whatever treatment I’m going to have or how is my diagnosis and my treatment going to affect my fertility? What is my risk of loss of fertility because of this treatment?” and to find out realistically if this is something that they need to worry about. Not every cancer patient is going to lose their fertility because they’ve been diagnosed with cancer and they’re going to have treatment. Not all chemotherapies are going to ruin ovaries or testes. Not all surgeries are going to make a woman infertile. I think that there’s a big myth out there that every chemotherapy that is available is going to render a man or a woman infertile, and that’s not true. There’s varying degrees.

There's also things that need to be looked at as far as the patient’s age. If the doctor is unwilling to talk about it or the patient doesn’t feel like they’ve gotten the right answer, then there are other places the patient can go to try to find out on their own, places like Fertile Hope or calling the Oncofertility Consortium just to kind of get an idea of what they’re looking at. Not every doctor is always going to bring it up. And sometimes, they don’t bring it up not because they don’t feel that it’s important but they might not feel that there is a risk. So they kind of maybe have skipped over that piece. The patient needs to feel comfortable having that conversation with their doctor or finding that information out somewhere else. If you are meeting with a fertility specialist after you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, the things that you wanna ask are, ""What are my options? What is available to me? And how, if any, is that going to affect my treatment for my cancer that I’m going to have?