Fertility after cancer treatment

30 May 2014

Toronto -

A new study funded by the Canadian Cancer Society will lead to the first Canadian decision aid that will help young cancer patients make choices to increase their odds of having a baby after treatment.

Young women who undergo cancer treatments can often be unknowingly at risk of infertility, an issue complicated by the fact that many cancer care experts lack the knowledge and resources necessary to assist them with their choices. The study is led by Dr Nancy Baxter, chief of the division of general surgery at St Michael’s Hospital in Toronto. The study is worth almost $300,000 and is one of 9 new Society Quality of Life Grants totalling more than $2 million.

“As a surgeon, I care for many cancer patients, but when it comes to providing them with information about protecting their fertility, I honestly can’t offer them much,” says Dr Baxter. “The goal of my project is to develop a tool that will address the unique needs of these young women by allowing them to examine the pros and cons of their reproductive options.”

For adolescent and young adult women diagnosed with cancer, the loss of fertility resulting from treatment can be especially challenging. Infertility in cancer survivors can be a major cause of distress and can have long-term consequences for their well-being.

Currently, doctors in Canada use American fertility guidelines for cancer patients. Dr Baxter and her team are developing a uniquely Canadian tool that will reflect the options available in this country. The project involves:

  • research to understand the experiences of women at risk of cancer treatment–related infertility and the attitudes of healthcare providers toward discussing this sensitive issue
  • adapting an existing Australian decision tool for breast cancer patients at high risk of infertility to include a broad range of cancers
  • pilot testing and evaluating the new Canadian decision aid with patients and healthcare experts 

“Quality of life is an important consideration for people living with and beyond cancer. Research in this area will help us better understand the important issues,” says Dr Siân Bevan, Director, Research, Canadian Cancer Society. “Dr Baxter’s project will create a tool that will help young cancer patients and their doctors discuss a complex topic and help them make the best decisions.”

Adolescents and young adults are aged 15 to 29 years. According to the most recent statistics, there were an average of 2,461 new cases of cancer diagnosed each year between 2006-2010 in this age group. Slightly more young females than young males were diagnosed with cancer.

Quality of Life Grants: “Without Society funding, there would be no other way to do this project.”

Dr Baxter says her new grant gives her the opportunity to bring together a multidisciplinary team including surgeons, oncologists, a reproductive health specialist, social worker and knowledge translation expert to fully explore this area. “Without funding from the Society, there would be no other way to do this project. Other funding agencies in Canada just don’t have the focus on quality of life like the Society does.”

Below are a few of the other newly funded Quality of Life Grants. A complete list is available on cancer.ca.

Dr Bruno Gagnon, Laval University, $281,000 – Advanced cancer patients are confronted by a high burden of physical and psychological symptoms that affect their quality of life. Research has shown that combined care from a nurse and a physician leads to significant improvements in quality of life and contributes to less aggressive care at the end of life and longer survival. In this study, Dr Gagnon is testing whether a large team from multiple healthcare disciplines is superior to early involvement of only a physician and nurse in patients with advanced cancer. This could ultimately improve the quality of care for advanced cancer patients.

Dr Gary Rodin, Ontario Cancer Institute/Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, Toronto, $300,000 – Acute leukemia, once diagnosed, requires patients to immediately begin intensive chemotherapy due to the swift deterioration of patients with this disease. As a result, patients can experience profound symptoms and emotions, which are not well addressed in current research or practice. Dr Rodin has developed the Emotion and Symptom‑focused Intervention (EASI) that can help patients manage physical and emotional responses such as fatigue, anxiety and pain. He is now conducting a pilot test of EASI in patients with acute leukemia to see whether it can reduce the burden of symptoms and improve quality of life. This could lead to a larger trial that could influence policies and practices for treating these patients.

Dr Kelli Stajduhar, University of Victoria, $300,000 – Family caregivers looking after a relative dying of cancer often carry considerable emotional, social, financial and physical burdens. Dr Stajduhar’s research team has developed the Carer Support Needs Assessment Tool (CSNAT), an intervention to assess the support needs of family caregivers providing palliative home care. Dr Stajduhar will test this by comparing 2 groups of caregivers: one receiving CSNAT; the other not. The intervention could help enhance the quality of life of family caregivers and also support a well‑established desire of terminally ill patients to spend their final days at home.

The Canadian Cancer Society is a national community-based organization of volunteers whose mission is the eradication of cancer and the enhancement of the quality of life of people living with cancer. When you want to know more about cancer, visit our website www.cancer.ca or call our toll-free, bilingual Cancer Information Service at 1 888 939-3333.

For more information, please contact:

Brooke Kelly

Communications Coordinator

Canadian Cancer Society

National office

Phone: 416-934-5321