1. University of Minnesota Medical School, Minneapolis, MN;
2. University of Minnesota, Department of Medicine, Division of Hematology, Oncology and Transplantation;
3. University of Minnesota, Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Women's Health;
4. University of Minnesota Masonic Cancer Center, Biostatistics and Bioinformatics Core.
PURPOSE: Pre-menopausal women with cancer are at risk of therapy-associated infertility, premature menopause, and sexual dysfunction. However, it is unknown whether oncologists adequately address these risks during treatment planning. We conducted a study to evaluate physician-patient discussions addressing the impact of cancer treatment and actual treatment effects on fertility, menopause status, and general sexual health.
METHODS: A questionnaire was administered in four oncology clinics specializing in breast, gynecologic, general hematology-oncology, and blood and marrow transplantation (BMT) cancer care at a single institution. Eligible participants were pre-menopausal at the time of diagnosis and either actively receiving or within 24 months from completion of treatment. Participants completed the questionnaire at enrollment and at 1-year follow-up.
RESULTS: Of the 104 eligible women, a majority were satisfied with the quality (68%) and length (66%) of reproductive health discussions, with the highest satisfaction levels in the gynecologic cancer clinic (85%) and the lowest levels in the BMT clinic (53%). Fertility preservation was desired by 20% of women, including some >40 years old. Women were more interested in discussing treatment impact on menopause status and sexual health than fertility. Rates of discussions on treatment impact on sexual health were low despite 77% of women reporting severe sexual dysfunction at 1-year follow-up.
CONCLUSIONS: One-third of women are dissatisfied with the quality and length of discussions regarding the impact of cancer treatment on reproductive health. There is notably inadequate counseling on the effect of treatment on fertility in women > 40 and on sexual function in all women. Oncologists must offer better resources and improve communication on the effect of treatment on reproductive health to pre-menopausal women with cancer.
Keywords: Cancer, Fertility, Physician-Patient Discussions, Women, Sexual Health.