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Young Female Cancer Survivors Have an Increased Risk of Infertility

Update Date: Jul 13, 2013 09:12 AM EDT

Cancer can be a debilitating disease that comes with a long and hard recovery period. Although cancers most often afflict adults, they can also manifest in young children and teenagers. In a new study, researchers looked into the effects of having cancer at such a young age. Previous studies have researched into the effects of early cancer on menopause onset and ovarian failure. This study focused on the women's fertility versus infertility after surviving cancer. The team from Dana-Farber/ Boston Children's Cancer, Blood Disorders Center and Brigham and Women's Hospital headed by Brigham and Women's, Dr. Sara Barton found that young female cancer survivors were at an increased risk of infertility.

The research team reviewed data from the Childhood Cancer Survivor Study (CCSS). CCSS was a study that tracked childhood cancer survivors under the age of 21. It composed of over 20,000 participants. For this study specifically, the researchers weeded out 3531 female childhood cancer survivors who had cancer before reaching 18-years-old. The researchers also recruited 1366 siblings who were healthy and acted as the control group.

The researchers found that for cancer survivors who were under 24-years-old and were trying to get pregnant, they were around 50 percent less likely to get pregnant when compared to their siblings. The cancer survivor group was also three times more likely to be infertile. For cancer survivors in their late 30s who were trying to get pregnant, the difference between having cancer and not having cancer associated with infertility was not as strong. The researchers reasoned that this finding could be due to the fact that women in general have a harder time getting pregnant by the time they reach their mid-30s and up. The team also found that 64 percent of 455 women who had reported clinical infertility did end up getting pregnant. This study suggests that although clinical infertility might not be completely permanent thing for female childhood cancer survivors, medical professionals might need to evaluate how they can help these survivors start a family.

"We do not have data about why providers did not prescribe infertility drugs, but are concerned about a provider bias against treating cancer survivors for infertility. Perhaps providers assessed the chance of success as poor and therefore decide not to attempt therapy, or perhaps survivors were less motivated to take drugs after previous extensive treatment. Alternatively, reproductive medicine providers might have been uncomfortable with perceived medical comorbidities," Barton said according to a press release.

The study was published in The Lancet

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