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The Role of Radiation Oncologists in Fertility Preservation Consultations & Referrals

As we’ve discussed in previous blogs, certain health care providers have a unique role in communicating fertility preservation information to newly diagnosed cancer patients. For example, often a gynecologist is the primary health care provider for many young women, therefore, based on “regular and consistent” interactions with patients, they play a pivotal role in discussing fertility preservation options should the circumstances arise. In a new article by Oncofertility Consortium researchers, Clement K. Gwede PhD, MPH, RN, Susan T. Vadaparampil PhD, MPH, Sarah Hoffe MD and Gwendolyn P. Quinn PhD, entitled, “The role of radiation oncologists and discussion of fertility preservation in young cancer patients,” published in the journal, Practical Radiation Oncology, the authors examined potential differences in practice behaviors, specifically referral and discussion of fertility preservation, among oncologists (ie, surgical oncologists, medical oncologists, and radiation oncologists).

The authors hypothesized that radiation and medical oncologists would be the most likely likely to initiate discussions about fertility preservation and subsequently refer patients to a reproductive specialist. They argued that “due to the inherent scope of radiation and chemotherapy treatment practices that include both verbal and written enumeration of potential short- and long-term treatment toxicities that can arise from the intended course of therapy.” In addition to that, they argued that because radiation treatment takes place over several weeks, patients have daily interactions with staff and weekly treatment exams with the radiation oncologist and nurse putting them in a unique role to discuss fertility preservation with their patients.

The results of their study are very interesting – they found that 82% of radiation oncologists say that they “always/often” discussed the impact cancer treatment may have on fertility compared to only 51% of surgical oncologists, however they found no substantial difference in referral rates with only 24-31% of subspecialty oncologists “rarely/never” referring patients to a reproductive specialist. Their findings suggest that there is still an opportunity to ensure that subspecialty oncologists are provided with appropriate fertility preservation information and resources so that patients receive comprehensive cancer care, including fertility preservation consultations and referrals. This in turn may improve the quality of life of cancer survivors within their reproductive years. To read, “The role of radiation oncologists and discussion of fertility preservation in young cancer patients,” please click here.

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