Preserving Fertility a Complicated Issue for Young Cancer Patients

Will I still be able to have a baby?”

It’s a question a 28-year-old woman might ask her doctor after learning she has been diagnosed with cancer. But a 13-year-old girl? She’s more likely to worry about making it to eight grade than how chemotherapy and radiation will affect her future fertility.

Still, it’s something parents need to think about as they guide their children through the jagged terrain that is cancer, said Caprice Knapp, Ph.D., a University of Florida health economist. That’s why Knapp and Moffitt Cancer Center researcher Gwendolyn Quinn, Ph.D., teamed to study how to better prepare parents and their adolescent daughters to grapple with and make decisions about fertility preservation. The issue is a growing concern because more young cancer patients are surviving today, Quinn said.

“It’s not enough to focus on survival but on quality survival,” said Quinn, an associate member of the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa.

So far, the collaboration has yielded two sub-grants and four published papers examining everything from how to approach girls on the subject to what they really understand about it. One of the sub-grants is part of a project dubbed the Oncofertilty Consortium. UF is a study site in the consortium, and Knapp and Quinn are working with the reproductive endocrinologists who lead UF’s fertility preservation program.

Alice Rhoton, M.D., a UF reproductive endocrinologist, says UF patients looking to preserve their fertility can store sperm and embryos. Patients who meet study criteria can also have strips of ovarian tissue frozen to preserve some of the eggs, and doctors are developing a protocol to freeze eggs, a delicate process that requires significant training. Medication options are available, too.

“Most people just want to survive, but if you never bring up the topic, they don’t ever have the chance to make a decision for themselves,” Rhoton said.

— April Frawley Birdwell

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Fall 2010

From the Director’s Desk

We want to cure cancer. We want to catch it early if we can. But even if we can’t, we want to cure it anyway. Here at the University of Florida Shands Cancer Center, we are committed to finding innovative ways to treat this disease, and ultimately, cure it.

Changing the Way Cancer is Treated

The University of Florida Proton Therapy Institute in Jacksonville has delivered more than 73,000 treatments to more than 2,200 patients, placing it among the top 10 proton therapy centers in the world.

A Healing Space

Perched on a bed in a room overlooking Paynes Prairie, Teresa Hughes adjusts the fuzzy brown cap she’s wearing and recalls the day in June when she couldn’t ignore how sick she felt anymore.

Babies?

Preserving fertility is a complicated issue for young cancer patients. It’s a question a 28-year-old woman might ask her doctor after learning she has been diagnosed with cancer. But a 13-year-old girl?

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