February 15, 2019 by John Fernandez and Tanya Racoobian
Having Children After Cancer: What to Know About Fertility Preservation
As more patients survive cancer, many look forward to a future that includes having children and raising a family. While some therapies to improve cancer survival rates have side effects that can include the loss of fertility, advances in fertility preservation and one-on-one discussions with patients’ oncology doctors and nurses can help provide the options available for having children after treatment.
“Although patients may be focused initially on their diagnosis, an individualized consultation about fertility preservation early in their journey is important in developing their plan of care,” said Elina Melik-Levine, an advanced registered oncology nurse practitioner (ARNP) and fertility educator at Miami Cancer Institute. “Talking about the risks treatment may pose to that patient, assessing their level of comfort with uncertainties that are part of receiving treatment, and their personal desires to have children after their cancer treatment is complete become part of their healing process.”
(Video: The Baptist Health News Team hears from Elina Melik-Levine, ARNP, oncology nurse practitioner at Miami Cancer Institute, about fertility preservation in cancer patients. Video by Steve Pipho and Carol Higgins.)
The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) agrees. Its fertility preservation guidelines say healthcare providers should start discussing as early as possible the possibility of infertility with cancer patients treated during their reproductive years, including parents of children who are being treated for cancer.
“Because we are seeing a younger population getting cancers and more women having children at older ages, it’s important to discuss the long-term effects that cancer treatment can have on fertility,” said Victor Guardiola, M.D., medical oncologist at Miami Cancer Institute. “We encourage patients to start having an open-ended conversation with whomever they see first, whether it’s a medical oncologist, surgical oncologist or radiation oncologist. With so much information available today about fertility-saving options, there shouldn’t be any barriers for patients to receive the right information to make an informed decision.”
Cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy, radiation and surgery, can affect certain parts of the female and male reproductive systems. In addition to the physical aspects cancer treatment can have on a patient, the emotional considerations involved in deciding to have children after treatment is complete can be just as important in their journey.
“One of the things my doctors kept repeating was ‘you’re going to have a big future’,” said Clara Pablo, an Instagram personality who recently completed breast cancer treatment at Miami Cancer Institute. “Just the thought of fertility preservation gives you something to look forward to.”
(Video: The Baptist Health News Team hears from cancer survivor Clara Pablo about fertility preservation. Video by Steve Pipho and Carol Higgins.)
Ms. Pablo now volunteers with the National Breast Cancer Foundation and shares hope and support to others facing cancer.
“Most patients are overwhelmed at first and scared about receiving treatment,” Ms. Melik-Levine said. “Talking about the possibilities of having children after their cancer treatment is complete helps to give them a sense of control and hope for the future. It gives them light and optimism.”
The Baptist Health News Team sat down with Ms. Melik-Levine and Ms. Pablo to learn more. Watch the videos now.