Results of a survey of 450 global hemato-oncologists and fertility specialists, from approximately 70 countries, has highlighted the need for improved education and standardized referral pathways for oncofertility.
The survey demonstrated that for 70% of oncologists, discussing fertility preservation with newly diagnosed cancer patients is a high priority. However, approximately 24% of oncologist still of the opinion that the success rate of fertility preservation is not yet good enough to make it an available option. The researchers believe these findings are reflected in referral rates, with almost one in five cancer patients, who consult IVF clinics, seeking out fertility preservation advice themselves without an oncologist referral.
Regarding the risk of infertility associated with cancer treatment, nearly all (97%) oncologists questioned declared they do inform their patients about the risk, with 9 in 10 stating they immediately refer at-risk patients to fertility specialists. Interestingly, the survey revealed that nearly two-thirds of fertility specialists are under the impression oncologists do not sufficiently explain and address the issue of fertility after cancer treatment with their patients.
A further unexpected finding of the survey that one in five oncologists did not know if there were any national guidelines on fertility preservation for cancer patients. Additionally, less than one-third of the oncologists believed there were national guidelines, compared with 43% of fertility specialists, reflecting either a lack of guidelines and/or a lack of awareness of availability of guidelines. Despite this, almost all of the healthcare professionals surveyed agreed on the need for guidelines, with 89% of oncologists and 92% of fertility specialists saying they were either useful or needed.
“Its critical cancer patients of child-bearing age are given the chance to preserve their fertility before starting treatment, and they should expect consistent provision of advice and care,” explained Zeev Shoham from the Kaplan Medical Centre (Rehovot, Israel), whose reference portal for fertility specialists, “IVF Worldwide”, played a leading role in the survey.
“Oncologists understand the importance of discussing fertility with their patients, but they’re trying to give their patients the best care with varying knowledge and, as seen in the survey, often without being aware of guidelines. These results once again highlight the key need for improved education of oncologists and standardized referral pathways,” Shoham concluded.
The full results of the survey are expected to be published in early 2018.