Talking about fertility

Sunday 1 June, 2014

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On this page: Feeling respected | Ways to raise the topic | Not feeling ready | Seeing a fertility specialist

Your doctor should discuss any risk to your fertility before you start cancer treatment.

If you are concerned about fertility, you may need to raise the topic – see below for some suggestions on how to initiate this conversation.

You may be reluctant to bring up fertility because you feel overwhelmed with the amount of cancer information. Some people wait to see if the topic is raised at a consultation.

Even if you aren’t sure what you want, it’s important that your doctor knows fertility is a priority for you. Your specialists can work to keep your fertility options open for the future.

Feeling respected

Anyone with cancer should be able to have a direct, honest conversation with their doctor about fertility and explore their options.

The effect of cancer treatments on fertility is the same regardless of whether you are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, questioning or heterosexual. You don’t need to have a partner to have these kinds of discussions.

It is important that you (and your partner, if you have one) feel respected, validated and included in all health professional communication. Building a trusting relationship with your cancer team will enable you to ask questions and seek support. 

Ways to raise the topic

You have the right to bring up fertility anytime. Here are some suggestions:

  • Before we start treatment, I want to talk about my fertility options.
  • How will this treatment affect my chances of having a child in the future?
  • Will any of these chemotherapy drugs reduce my fertility?
  • With whom do you recommend I discuss my future fertility options?
  • Can you recommend a fertility specialist or provide me with a referral to a specialist?
  • Should I think about storing sperm/eggs/embryos?

Not feeling ready

Cancer may force you to think about your fertility much earlier than you wanted to. You might not want to deal with whether you might want to have children in the future.

As difficult as this might be, it is important to give yourself as many choices as possible for the future. Reading the section about informed decision making may be helpful.

If you are thinking, ‘but I don’t want kids anyway’, remember that you might change your mind down the track. Your fertility specialist or counsellor will probably discourage you from ruling out fertility options or restricting yourself.

Seeing a fertility specialist

Fertility specialists are doctors who have additional training and experience in managing fertility. They are sometimes called reproductive endocrinologists.

During an appointment, the specialist will talk through what you want and the options available to you. Your treating cancer doctor will give input, and together you can decide what is right for you and works with your cancer treatment plan.

If you have a partner, you may choose to attend appointments together and include them in your decision-making process. Alternatively, you may wish to bring a family member or friend for support.

Some people find this process stressful. It’s a good idea to plan some questions in advance and take notes of what is discussed so you can review it later. The information about dealing with emotional issues and the impact on your relationships may also be helpful.

"The first time I met my surgeon she said, ‘You should go and see a fertility specialist.’ I was very lucky, in the sense that I was able to access that information and treatment. It all happened very quickly. The only way to describe the process is that it was incredibly overwhelming. However, it’s better not to delay it." – Mackenzie 

Reviewed by: Prof Martha Hickey, Head of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, University of Melbourne, VIC; Franca Agresta, Clinical Research Manager, Melbourne IVF, VIC; Alyssa White, National Publications Project Manager, Cancer Council NSW; and Georgia Mills, Cancer Survivor. 
Updated: 01 Jun, 2014