New resource to aid fertility decisions after cancer diagnosis

University academics in Yorkshire have developed an innovative range of resources to help inform difficult fertility decisions, such as freezing eggs and embryos, for women after they are first diagnosed with cancer.

Tuesday, 14th April 2020, 6:00 am
Academics from Leeds Beckett University have produced a new resource to aid in fertility decision making after being diagnosed with cancer. Photo credit: Vicky Matthers/Iconphotomedia

A team of researchers from Leeds Beckett University have produced the first resource in the UK to aid fertility preservation treatment decisions for women.

Professor Georgina Jones, the project lead from the university, said the work started after the NHS wanted to support women to find out about the effects of cancer treatment on fertility before it was too late.

As a psychologist, Professor Jones examines the trauma women have experienced as a result of losing their fertility.

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"Our aim is for patients to feel better supported and more informed at the time of planning their cancer treatment and before referral to the fertility expert," she said.

For some women, cancer treatments such as chemotherapy, radiotherapy, hormonal and surgical therapies may cause long-lasting fertility problems and reduce the future chances of becoming pregnant.

The new project 'Cancer, Fertility and Me', funded by Yorkshire Cancer Research, provides information via a new website and booklets for any woman when they are first diagnosed.

Dr Kathryn Scott, Chief Executive at Yorkshire Cancer Research, said: “Going through a cancer diagnosis is an incredibly tough time, and we need to ensure that patients are better supported so that they can make informed decisions about their treatment and long-term quality of life.

“This is particularly important for women who may wish to have children in the future."

Fertility preservation options include freezing eggs, embryos or ovarian tissue, hormone treatment and surgical procedures .

The work is a collaboration with St James’s University Hospital, Leeds, and Weston Park Hospital, Sheffield after a two-year cancer fertility information programme.

More than 400 women with cancer aged 16-45 were eligible to take part and during that time there were no records to show these women had any access to fertility information.

The researchers say the project will result in better decision making.

Professor Jones is calling for fertility information to be a statutory service, and should be formally recorded.

"Previously, only women living outside of the UK and diagnosed with breast cancer had access to this type of information," she said.

She added the website and booklet will enable women to make better informed and personalised choices and have more focused consultations with the fertility experts.

This would enable a better opportunity to ask the right questions at the right time during the fertility consultation.

As the information resources were being developed, they were made available to women recently diagnosed with cancer, including Paula de Wet, from Leeds, who was diagnosed with breast cancer on her 38th birthday.

“The effect on fertility wasn’t something that we thought about at the time,” she said. “The focus was on getting me well.”

Paula underwent surgery but was then told she would have to undergo a course of chemotherapy because the cancer was more established than originally thought.

“The cancer diagnosis was a huge blow, as it would be for anyone. From a fertility point of view, it was disastrous," she said.

“At that age, it was already going to be a difficult time to start a family anyway. One of the major fears was that the chemotherapy would stop that completely."

After using the 'Cancer, Fertility and Me' resources Paula and her husband Mario were given an appointment at Leeds Fertility Clinic, and decided on the option of embryo freezing.

“It was so important that we got that support and information,” she said.

The Leeds local added after she ends her current course of medication later this year she will be in a better place to make decisions regarding children.

“Having gone through this process, at least we now have the opportunity to make those decisions,” she said.

The researchers fertility resources have been accepted onto the international patient decision inventory.

The project resources are now available across the UK and cancer and fertility healthcare professionals are being urged to share them with newly-diagnosed women.

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