Infertility a Potential Side Effect of Chemotherapy for Breast Cancer
When oncologists determine a course of treatment for breast cancer patients, consideration is first given to life saving measures followed by quality of life concerns. With the growing number of cancer survivors in the United States, greater attention is being given to quality of life concerns.
A significant issue for many breast cancer patients facing chemotherapy is preserving fertility since many chemotherapy regimens come with a high risk of infertility. This is particularly true among younger women still in their childbearing years. Researchers at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine have been awarded a $21 million grant for the National Institute of Health for a landmark program that targets fertility threats posed to women by cancer treatment.
Northwestern's leading fertility researcher, Dr. Teresa Woodruff, coined the term Oncofertility to describe a new discipline where cancer treatment and fertility health intersect. With this grant, the Feinberg School of Medicine will launch the Oncofertility Consortium, an interdisciplinary team of oncologists, fertility experts, scientists, social workers, engineers, educators, and medical ethicists to conduct a thorough examination of the scientific, medical, psychological, legal and ethical issues surrounding infertility and cancer. Not only will this group continue to engage in clinical research, but attention will be given to creating patient navigators to ensure that a woman not only fully understands the risks to her fertility by specific treatments, but also understands the available alternatives.
Additionally, the Consortium will also focus on educational efforts that will draw on social science projects including studies looking at doctor-patient communication patterns, medical-decision making, and the psychosocial consequences of infertility. The educational efforts include a Patient-Parent-Partner Education and Support Network, Oncofertility Professional Education Network, and Oncofertility Saturday Academy for middle school girls exposing them to the world of oncofertility and encouraging future professional development in the field.
How will this benefit the average cancer patient? Oncologists specialize in treating cancer and fertility experts specialize in fertility issues, but neither one is versed in both specialties. For the first time, the gap between the two is being bridged and special focus given to the specific fertility needs of cancer patients. Secondly, the development of patient navigators is very promising in the holistic treatment of cancer patients. When given a cancer diagnosis, patients are swept into an emotional rollercoaster and focus solely on winning the battle at any cost.
The role of the patient navigator is to sort out the options with the patient and select the best treatment plan that preserves fertility and treats the cancer. The patient navigator then works with the doctor to coordinate the plan. While only Northwestern will have a patient navigator, if successful, the position could be a role model for future development. More research and more awareness can only portend hope for the future of treating cancer and preserving fertility.
For more on cancer and fertility from breast cancer survivors, read: