(Courtesy of PUAH) The Annual Meeting of the European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE) in Geneva showcased a number of interesting presentations. One study from a Scottish group explored the impact of cancer treatment on fertility.
Who were the subjects of the study?
The study reviewed the fertility of 23,000 female cancer survivors who were 39 year of age or younger.
What did the study discover?
It was revealed that the treatment for cancer had a very detrimental effect on their pregnancy rates. These women were 38% less likely to achieve a pregnancy than women who had not undergone cancer treatment.
However, this is not necessarily a marker of decreased fertility, since eggs, embryos and even ovarian tissue can be frozen prior to cancer treatment. These can later be thawed and used to achieve a pregnancy.
Why is this information significant?
It is clear proof of something that was previously only a suspicion—that cancer treatment can have a substantially detrimental effect on fertility. It also highlights the importance of freezing genetic material prior to cancer treatment to prevent difficulties in achieving pregnancy.
Why do female cancer victims often not preserve their genetic material?
When parents learn that their child has cancer, they enter a state of shock, like a deer caught in the headlights. All they can think of is one thing—that they will do whatever they can to find a treatment to cure their child. But in the scramble to find the best oncologists and the preferred treatment, the question of fertility preservation is barely touched upon, or even ignored completely.
What about the doctors? Don’t they advise their patients about all the side effects of treatment?
Unfortunately, the doctors are also so absorbed in providing the best treatment to save the child’s life that this information falls to the wayside. They do not always remind the parents of the importance of protecting their child’s fertility.
The stark reality of the numbers in the above study should be a reminder of the significant possibility of treatment-caused fertility issues. It is imperative that both parents and doctors do their utmost to ensure that this does not become an issue.
During these weeks, life is on all of our minds as we ask God to inscribe us in the Book of Life. The importance of life is repeated numerous times during our prayers, and this intensifies during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. As we ask God to give us life, we need to be conscious of the importance of not just saving lives, but also ensuring the birth of future lives.
Fertility preservation for cancer patients is an important issue that needs to be brought to the forefront and presented to parents of such children. In this way, not only will the child’s life be saved, but the child’s future generations will be preserved as well.
By Rabbi Gideon Weitzman, Senior PUAH advisor