Five years ago, Sheri Scott, 31, was planning for her upcoming wedding. She knew her life was about to change forever, but she didn’t expect the change to be breast cancer.
Just weeks after becoming engaged to be married, Scott put her wedding plans on hold while she planned instead for a double mastectomy. The last thing on her mind right then was family planning. Luckily, her doctor at Chicago’s Northwestern Memorial Hospital approached her about options to preserve her chances of having children in the future.
While cancer treatments can be lifesaving, many young people don’t know cancer treatments can compromise a person’s fertility. Chemotherapy can cause ovarian damage or failure in women, or she may become menopausal because of certain chemotherapy treatments.
In men, infertility primarily occurs through damage of the testicular lining, according to the Cleveland Clinic Cancer Center. Likewise, radiation therapy and some cancer-related surgery can also inhibit a person’s ability to later reproduce.
Often doctors don’t discuss reproductive issues with their patients who are focused on preserving their own life. That’s a big problem, says Lisa Bernhard, a breast cancer survivor, co-host and producer of the Stupid Cancer Show and an advocate for young cancer survivors with the I’m Too Young For This! Cancer Foundation.
“Not enough doctors are counseling us to save our eggs or sperm prior to treatment because there is a high probability the cancer treatment could make us infertile. That’s not okay, and it’s downright devastating to find that out after treatment when it’s too late,” Bernhard said.
Dr Ralph R. Kazer, MD, a reproductive endocrinologist at Northwestern Memorial and professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine agrees. “When a young person is diagnosed with cancer, there is only a brief window of time to learn about options for preserving their fertility before treatment. Once a patient begins chemotherapy or radiation, they are at risk of losing their ability to have children in the future,” he said in a written statement.