Radiation Oncologists Are Discussing Infertility Risks with Young Patients

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More than 80% of radiation oncologists discuss the impact of cancer treatments on fertility with their patients of childbearing age. This can lead to improved quality of life for young patients with cancer, according to a study in Practical Radiation Oncology.1

In the past, the clinical focus for young patients with cancer was strictly survival. The success of today’s treatment options has shifted the clinical focus from strictly survival, to survival plus long-term quality-of-life issues.

A patient’s risk for infertility increases after chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and sometimes surgery. For the large percentage of patients with cancer who are of reproductive age, this is an important quality-of-life issue. There have been great advances in the field of fertility preservation, but these options must be considered before cancer treatment begins.

Referral Patterns Studied

Recent research suggests that less than 50% of adult patients with cancer who are of childbearing age receive adequate education about their options before cancer treatment. Moreover, less than 35% of women recall discussing the risks of infertility during or after cancer treatment.

Researchers in this study sought to determine the fertility preservation discussion and referral patterns among oncology specialists (ie, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, and surgical oncologists). Physicians were asked if they always/often, sometimes, or rarely/never discussed the impact of cancer treatments on future fertility with their patients.

Among radiation oncologists who responded to the survey, 82% always/often discussed fertility and 17% sometimes did; none answered rarely/never. Among medical oncologists, 84% discussed fertility options and 4% admitted to never discussing the subject. Among surgical oncologists, 51% always discussed fertility and 20% never discussed it.

All specialties referred patients to a reproductive endocrinologist for fertility preservation at approximately the same low rate: 40% of radiation oncologists, compared with 45% of medical oncologists and 46% of surgical oncologists.

“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 Gwendolyn P. Quinn, PhD, senior author of the study and an Associate Member and Director of the Survey Methods Core Facility at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida. ■

Disclosure: Dr. Quinn reported no potential conflicts of interest.


1. Gwede CK, Vadaparampil ST, Hoffe S, et al: The role of radiation oncologists and discussion of fertility preservation in young cancer patients. Pract Radiat Oncol. January 27, 2012 (early release online).