Bioethics Blogs

The Need for Patient Navigators for Fertility Preservation

Although life-saving, cancer treatments (e.g. radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery) can also lead to infertility in both women and men. Established reproductive technologies for women and men like gamete freezing and embryo freezing allow cancer patients to preserve their fertility in case they want to become biological parents in the future. 

Unfortunately, patients are frequently not adequately informed and sometimes not informed at all about fertility preservation. Some oncologists don’t consider fertility preservation to be an important issue, as they are more focused on saving the patients’ lives and see fertility preservation as a secondary consideration. Research has shown that even when oncologists refer their patients for fertility preservation they often do so based on social factors (they are more likely to refer wealthy, white, heterosexual, married patients) rather than purely on medical indications. Even when health care providers discuss fertility preservation with patients, many patients say that once they heard the word “cancer” as a diagnosis, they didn’t absorb much else from their initial conversation with their provider. 

This finding has lead some places to schedule a follow-up visit for newly diagnosed patients with a health care provider specializing in fertility preservation. However, having a fertility preservation patient navigator is expensive and the vast majority of hospitals don’t have someone dedicated to that position. Northwestern University’s Oncofertilty Consortium is one of the few places where there is a full time person devoted solely to providing patient navigation for fertility preservation. This navigator is also available as a resource for providers and patients outside of the Northwestern system; more information can be found here.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.