Stories about: preserving the fertility of childhood cancer patients

Surviving cancer takes more than medicine

Recent estimates from the American Cancer Society (ACS) put the number of cancer survivors living in the U.S. right now at about 13.7 million, and in the next decade that number should hit 18 million.

Many of those survivors, especially young patients, will face unique issues after cancer treatment: dealing with emotional and physical side effects, legal rights concerning health care and employment, reproduction issues, getting appropriate follow-up care and readjusting to school and social lives. Because younger patients have such special needs, Dana-Farber/Children’s Hospital Cancer Center (DF/CHCC) has many programs to help.

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Protecting the fertility of childhood cancer survivors

By Tom Ulrich. A version of this story originally appeared in Vector, Children’s science and innovation blog

While many childhood cancers are readily curable, those cures can come at a cost to future fertility. (Wikimedia Commons)

Thanks to advances in medicine, 75 percent of children currently diagnosed with cancer will live to see adulthood. This is extremely welcome news of course, but with it comes new questions about what adult life holds for survivors of childhood cancers. As science is now discovering, the therapies that are so effective at saving children’s lives can also occasionally lead to problems down the road (called the late effects of cancer treatment.)

Some of the more common concerns surrounding late effects of cancer treatment have to do with its effects on fertility, which can be quite harsh. “There’s a huge segment of the pediatric oncology population that’s at risk for infertility when they grow up,” says Richard Yu, MD, PhD who works on male infertility in Children’s Hospital Boston’s department of Urology.

The problem is hardly gender specific. “It’s as though cancer treatment pushes the ovaries further down the age curve,” says Sara Barton, a fertility specialist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital who collaborates with Lisa Diller, MD clinical director of the Dana-Farber/Children’s Hospital Cancer Center (DF/CHCC). “So while a woman who has survived childhood cancer may be 20 years old, her ovaries act like they’re 35 or 40.”

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