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Coalition to Help Cancer Patients Access Fertility Preservation Info
Experts in reproductive endocrinology, urology and oncology announced the formation of the Alliance for Fertility Preservation at the recent International Society for Fertility Preservation's 2nd World Congress. The coalition is designed to help newly diagnosed cancer patients in the United States access information about their options for fertility preservation.
Cancer treatments such as chemotherapy attack follicles in the ovaries that contain a woman’s lifetime supply of eggs. Surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and other drugs to treat cancer may damage or destroy a woman’s eggs. According to National Cancer Institute statistics from 2005, there were 1.3 million people diagnosed with cancer, and approximately 4 percent of those were under age 35. But according to surveys of cancer survivors of childbearing age, less than half of patients recalled having a discussion about fertility when they were diagnosed with cancer.
The Alliance for Fertility Preservation was formed to facilitate more discussion between patients and their doctors about the potential loss of fertility and what their options are — such as egg freezing or embryo freezing — or preserving their fertility. The coalition is co-chaired by John Mulhall, M.D., of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC), and Zev Rosenwaks, M.D., and Glenn Schattman, M.D., with the Ronald O. Perelman and Claudia Cohen Center for Reproductive Medicine at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center.
"The Alliance for Fertility Preservation aims to identify tools to support physicians within the clinical setting so that they may educate their patients about fertility preservation and enable these patients to make informed decisions about their fertility," says Dr. Rosenwaks. "Because more and more young cancer patients are surviving their cancers, it has become increasingly important that their post-cancer lives be taken into account in discussions with their oncologists and other clinicians prior to treatment. In fact, discussions about options to preserve fertility, including the collection and preservation of sperm, eggs and embryos have a very positive psychological impact and give hope to these individuals. While reproductive endocrinologists have been working with oncologists for a number of years, the need for further collaboration and education regarding fertility options is needed prior to cancer treatment. As such, we have formed the Alliance and look forward to developing educational programs to maximize communication and education of both doctors and the public."
In many cases, a woman who has been diagnosed with cancer can take the time to preserve their fertility with options such as embryo freezing or egg freezing prior to starting cancer treatment. The egg freezing option has improved dramatically over the last few years due to a faster freezing technique called vitrification. Fertility doctors stimulate a woman’s ovaries to produce eggs with fertility drugs and retrieve them in the same manner as is performed for in vitro fertilization (IVF).
The Alliance for Fertility Preservation was made possible with an unrestricted educational grant from Ferring Pharmaceuticals, Inc. The coalition plans to work with health care systems to ensure they are equipped to provide patients with information about fertility preservation, help to promote research in the field and develop a website to house information about patients' fertility preservation options, as well as tools to help professionals facilitate dialogue with their patients. "To implement its goals, the Alliance will first identify tools to support physicians within the clinical setting so that they may educate their patients about fertility preservation and enable these patients to make informed decisions about their fertility," says Dr. Rosenwaks.
"When patients are diagnosed with cancer, their healthcare team is primarily focused on survival," says Dr. Mulhall, "but, because many cancer treatments can have a negative effect on fertility, we also need to focus on educating patients about fertility preservation options."
In addition to Drs. Mulhall, Rosenwaks and Schattman, the alliance includes a group of experts and advocacy group representatives across specialties, including clinical psychologist Leslie Schover, Ph.D., of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, and representatives from the fields of reproductive endocrinology, oncology and primary care.
"More communication is required between patients, oncologists and the fertility specialists as well as between fertility preservation specialists and oncologists," says Dr. Rosenwaks. " The Alliance will work to optimize and facilitate dialogue between clinicians and patients who have recently been diagnosed with cancer."