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The Patient-Physician Interface: How Breast Cancer Patients Navigate Fertility Concerns and Treatment Options

Site:  Northwestern University

Principal Investigator: Karrie Snyder, PhD


This project assesses how adult women with breast cancer share their concerns regarding infertility with their physicians, how they arrive at a treatment plan with their doctor, and the impact of possible infertility on their lives and relationships after cancer, with special attention being paid to issues of diversity in patient’s concerns and survivorship experiences.


  • Understand how adult women diagnosed with cancer and their physicians discuss fertility issues and make treatment choices, and how fertility impacts women’s lives after cancer.
  • Understand the process of patient-physician decision-making on a broader level to aid in unearthing possible inequities across groups of female cancer patients in terms of access to information regarding infertility, ability to pursue fertility preservation and later fertility treatments, and the resulting differences in life experiences, personal relationships, and family plans.

Indices of Scholarship 

  • Recruit a sufficient number of women diagnosed with breast cancer (within the past 2 years) and physicians who treat younger cancer patients for in-depth interviews to gain a better understanding of the concerns of women and their relationship with their physicians
  • Conduct patient interviews composed of questions related to demographic and illness information, treatment decisions and relationship with the doctor, family/intimate relationships, and issues of identity and gender roles
  • Analyze interview data and conduct follow-up interviews (2-3 years later) to track how women’s fertility concerns and family/partnership plans and goals change over time and how infertility-related health care decisions have impacted their lives

Consortium Support and Impact

This project draws on other parts of the Oncofertility Consortium in developing a social science inquiry that is informed by scientific innovation and insight.  It relies on clinical and medical perspectives and advances and application of oncofertility technology (see Follice Cryopreservation, Bioengineering Primate Follicles, and Human Follicle Maturation In Vitro) to develop surveys, focus group guidelines, and interviews while serving as an integrated link to interdisciplinary biomedical research in ovarian follicle harvesting, cryopreservation, maturation, and fertilization.  Insights regarding the psychosocial impact of infertility on the lives of cancer patients and their families will be applied to the training, education, and advocacy mission of the Consortium.

This research was supported by the Oncofertility Consortium®, funded by the National Institutes of Health through the NIH Roadmap for Medical Research, Grant UL1DE19587 and RL1HD058296.

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