Receiving a cancer diagnosis at any age is excruciating, but for young men and women in their 20s, 30s, and younger there are additional concerns that need to be addressed fairly quickly as some effective cancer treatments can permanently damage fertility. The additional stress and costs leave many patients with a very difficult choice: pay for fertility treatment prior to cancer treatment, or risk losing the ability to have a baby in the future. Desireé McCarthy-Keith, M.D., M.P.H., Shady Grove Fertility Atlanta, recently joined Jazz 91.9 WCLK and host Paula Gwynn Grant to educate listeners on sexual wellness after cancer.
WHAT FERTILITY OPTIONS ARE AVAILABLE AFTER A CANCER DIAGNOSIS?
“We definitely want patients to think about their fertility when they have their diagnosis. That’s the time to speak with their physicians and to talk about options for preserving their fertility, because we know that many women are living beyond their cancer diagnosis and treatment. We do not want to wait to see them after they have beaten their cancer, when their fertility may have been affected by their treatment. If we have that conversation initially, we can a lot of times step in and freeze a woman’s eggs or freeze sperm to prepare them for the future, so that when they come on the other side of their cancer, we can talk about having their family then.”
HOW HAS TECHNOLOGY REALLY HELPED US IN TERMS OF PRESERVING SPERM AND EGGS IN THE FACE OF CANCER, AND BEING ABLE TO PROTECT OUR FERTILITY AND HAVE CHILDREN LATER IN LIFE?
“We’ve definitely seen the field of infertility care and reproductive medicine evolve over the last 15-20 years where we’ve become much better in the ways that we can prepare and freeze sperm and eggs. The freezing techniques have improved so that the cells tolerate their procedure better and they’re healthier through the process and we’re able to work with them later. We’ve also had newer diagnostic testing – there’s a hormone produced by the ovaries called AMH or Anti-Müllerian hormone that we now order pretty routinely that can give us a quick idea about a woman’s ovarian function and her egg reserve, so that’s a test we’ve been using for several years and that gives us a good idea.”
WHAT PREVENTATIVE MEASURES CAN WOMEN TAKE TO SCREEN FOR CANCER?
“It’s very important for us to have your primary physician or your gynecologist stay in touch and have those routine exams, routine breast exams, screenings for cervical cancer, pelvic exam – and we can often identify these conditions earlier and work on the treatments that can have a better outcome.”
WHAT ARE THE SIDE EFFECTS THAT IMPACT FERTILITY AND SEXUAL FUNCTION AFTER CANCER TREATMENT?
“For the common female cancers, the chemotherapy regimens often used can really affect a woman’s ovarian function, and we know that women are born with all of their eggs and when they have certain exposures, those are exposures to the egg supply for the rest of their lifetime – it’s not something that goes away or that our egg supply is renewed. So when women receive chemotherapy for breast cancer, even sometimes women who are treated for those same agents for Lupus, will see permanent damage to their ovaries after those treatments, which is not reversible. We want to talk about ways to either collect their eggs beforehand or talk about different types of regiments and ways to protect the ovaries from those effects. Radiation can also affect the ovarian function permanently.”
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE THINGS YOU WOULD LIKE YOUR PATIENTS TO KNOW ABOUT BROACHING THE SUBJECT OF SEXUAL WELLNESS AFTER CANCER TREATMENT?
“We just remind them that these are medical conditions, and that we want to talk about them the same way we would talk about high blood pressure, diabetes or anything else. We want them to be comfortable to seek that information, and again the most important thing is for patients to be informed ahead of their cancer treatment at the time of diagnosis, which is very hard because it’s already a very difficult diagnosis. It’s stressful and they are frustrated and unsure about the future, and so it’s really hard, but we have to make time to focus on the future, again because many women and men are surviving their cancer and we don’t want to have those conversations too late.”
DO YOU HAVE SOME WORDS OF WISDOM ON SEXUAL WELLNESS AND FERTILITY AFTER CANCER?
“Getting a cancer diagnosis is hard and sometimes it’s hard to think about your fertility when you’re just trying to deal with that diagnosis, but we have to focus on it at that time – that is the crucial time to really think about down the line once I get past my cancer and my treatment if I want to have a family, what can I do now to ensure that that’s a possibility. Patients need to be advocates for their own healthcare, and to be an active participant. Engage with their physicians, come in with questions and information, bring a support person with them, and get all of the information that they can. Lastly, I would say that we have many options now for men and women who are diagnosed with a cancer, so that they can still have their family after they beat their cancer.”
To listen to the full radio interview with Dr. McCarthy-Keith, click here.
At Shady Grove Fertility, we have a specially trained team that works specifically with people with cancer. We will work directly with your oncology team to ensure we expedite your fertility preservation so that cancer treatment can quickly begin. Known as the oncofertility team, they help guide you through each step of the treatment process, from finding ways to afford treatment to the actual medical procedure. Due to the time sensitivity with treatment, you can expect an expedited treatment plan and to see a physician for consultation as soon as possible.
New Shady Grove Fertility Atlanta patients: To schedule an appointment with Dr. McCarthy-Keith or any of our Shady Grove Fertility Atlanta physicians, call 404-843-2229 or fill out this brief form.
New patients outside of Atlanta: To learn more or to schedule a physician consult, call 888-761-1967 or fill out this brief form.