Rate of infertility discussions varies widely among oncology specialists

March 21, 2012

High percentages of radiation oncologists and medical oncologists discuss the impact of cancer treatments on fertility with their patients of childbearing age, but the frequency of these discussions varies widely by specialty, according to a recent study.

High percentages of radiation oncologists and medical oncologists discuss the impact of cancer treatments on fertility with their patients of childbearing age, but the frequency of these discussions varies widely by specialty, according to a recent study.

Such discussions can lead to improved quality of life for young cancer patients who are living much longer after their original diagnosis, say researchers from Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, FL.

In the study, which was published online in Practical Radiation Oncology (Jan. 27, 2012), the authors sought to determine the fertility preservation discussion and referral patterns among oncology specialists. Physicians were asked if they always/often, sometimes, or rarely/never discussed the impact of cancer treatments on future fertility with their patients.

Radiation oncologists always/often discussed fertility 83% of the time and sometimes 17% of the time. (Rarely/never was at 0%.) Medical oncologists discussed fertility options 84% of the time and admitted to never discussing it 4% of the time. Surgical oncologists always discussed it 51% of the time and never discussed it 20% of the time.

Despite the wide range in how often each specialty discussed the impact of treatments on fertility, all specialties referred patients for fertility preservation at approximately the same low rate. Radiation oncologists reported always/often referring patients 40% of the time, medical oncologists 45%, and surgical oncologists 46%.

"These findings are important particularly for radiation oncologists, who may have a unique role in communicating fertility preservation options to their patients since their patients have daily interaction with staff and weekly treatment exams with the radiation oncology physician and nurse," said senior author Gwendolyn P. Quinn, PhD. "There is a notable opportunity to implement provider education about fertility preservation and to improve quality of life and quality care for patients of reproductive potential."

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