University of Washington School of Public Health

UW SPH News: Gender Differences Seen in Cancer Patients and Fertility Preservation

Gender Differences Seen in Cancer Patients and Fertility Preservation

08/05/2015
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Young adult males with cancer were more than twice as likely as female patients to report that they had discussed options to preserve their fertility before treatment, a study in the journal Cancer finds.

Even more striking, the study noted, about one-third of males reported making arrangements to preserve their sperm – a rate four to five times higher than the rate of women (6.8 percent) who froze their eggs, embryos or ovarian tissue.

“Our main explanation for this is that, for men, it’s fairly easy to provide a sperm sample,” said co-author Dr. Stephen Schwartz, professor of epidemiology at the University of Washington School of Public Health and a member of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. “And the concept of sperm banking has been around a long time.” In contrast, he said, “Egg preservation for women is a relatively newer idea, and it is made more complicated by its substantial cost and need for timing during a woman’s menstrual cycle.”

Led by the University of Washington and Seattle Children’s Research Institute, researchers analyzed questionnaires from 459 adolescents and young adults who were diagnosed with cancer between 2007 and 2008. It is believed to be the first study to look at economic, social, and other factors and how they might be related to issues such as whether doctors discuss fertility preservation with their patients.

Overall, the study found that more than 70 percent of the young adults were told that cancer may affect their fertility. The researchers said 29 percent of males reported not discussing fertility preservation with an oncologist before the start of cancer treatment. For women, that figure was 56.3 percent.

The lead author was Dr. Margarett Shnorhavorian, associate professor of pediatric urology in the UW’s Department of Urology.