Young Cancer Survivors Face Infertility Issues, But May Not Be Able to Afford Fertility Treatments

Nearly 70,000 people between ages 15 and 39 are newly diagnosed with cancer each year, and many risk infertility after chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or other treatments. Although there are increasingly more options to preserve fertility (such as freezing eggs, sperm, and embryos), patients often run into financial challenges because many states do not require insurers to cover these services, according to a report published by Kaiser Health News.

California State Senator Anthony Portantino introduced legislation that would require insurers, beginning in 2018, to cover fertility preservation services when necessary medical treatments may cause infertility. Though similar legislation has been proposed in New York, Hawaii, Connecticut, and other states, these bills have been vetoed based largely on cost.

“It is not cheap for anybody, but for a young adult, this is really tough,” said Pam Simon, MSN, CPNP, nurse practitioner and program manager at the Adolescent and Young Adult Cancer Program at Stanford University. “They have just started their career and cancer has thrown a big wrench into that. Not having [fertility treatment] covered is a big deal.”

Access to treatment also varies based on where patients live and what type of insurance coverage they have, and many patients have to pay out of pocket. “[There] are well-recognized complications of cancer therapy,” said Alison Loren, MD, MS, associate professor at Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, who treats patients with leukemia and does bone marrow transplants, noting that insurance companies often cover the cost of wigs for patients who lose their hair after chemotherapy. “Fertility is [also a complication], and it should be covered.”

She added that medical providers do not always discuss fertility with patients, citing a 2011 survey that found that fewer than half of U.S. doctors informed patients of childbearing age about fertility preservation. “When people are diagnosed, it is such a whirlwind,” she said. “There is a long to-do list. On that to-do list should be to discuss fertility.”

Source: Kaiser Health News, February 3, 2017.