Although the prevalence of infertility after cancer treatment and the health of the offspring of survivors have been studied, little information has been available about survivors' attitudes, emotions, and choices with regard to having children.
A questionnaire was received by 283 patients from the Cleveland Clinic Foundation tumor registry who were diagnosed before age 35 years, were age 18 years or older at the time of the survey, and were free of disease. The SF-36, a measure of health-related quality of life, was included, as well as questions about demographic and medical background, reproductive and fertility history, and a variety of concerns about having children after cancer.
The response rate to the survey was 47%, yielding a sample of 43 men and 89 women who had had cancer at various sites. Their mean age at diagnosis was 26 years and the mean time since diagnosis was 5 years. Before cancer, 35% had at least 1 child, compared with 46% currently. Of those currently childless, 76% want children in the future. Although about half of the entire sample view themselves as having impaired fertility, only 6% have undergone infertility treatment. Nineteen percent have significant anxiety that their cancer treatment could impact negatively on their children's future health. Of women, 18% fear that a pregnancy could trigger a cancer recurrence. Only 57% received information from their health care providers about infertility after cancer. Other reproductive concerns were discussed less often. Only 24% of childless men banked sperm before treatment. SF-36 scores were very similar to normative data for healthy Americans of similar age. About 80% of the sample viewed themselves positively as actual or potential parents. Feeling healthy enough to be a good parent after cancer was the strongest predictor (P < 0.001) of emotional well-being as measured by the Mental Component Score of the SF-36.
The great majority of younger cancer survivors see their cancer experience as potentially making them better parents. Those who are childless want to have children in the future. Many, however, are left with significant anxieties and insufficient information about reproductive issues. Cancer 1999;86:697–709. © 1999 American Cancer Society.