Cancer patients should get fertility treatment, say medics

In collaboration with the Press Association

The NHS should provide full funding for cancer patients to undergo fertility treatment, a new working party report from the Royal Colleges of Physicians, Radiologists, and Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has claimed.

Although many cancer treatments have no effect on fertility, chemotherapy and some forms of radiotherapy and surgery may damage the testicles or ovaries and reduce a person's chances of having children.

It is possible to bank men's sperm in anticipation of this and, in the case of women, to create embryos using IVF for storage prior to cancer treatment.

In addition, research is currently underway to determine the possibility of freezing eggs or portions of the ovary in the hopes of restoring fertility after cancer treatment has been completed.

However, a survey of oncologists that accompanies the new working party report suggests that, despite national guidelines recommending universal access to sperm, egg and embryo storage, these services are not always available or funded.

The new report - entitled 'The effects of cancer treatment on reproductive functions; guidance on management' - calls for a national policy on the funding and availability of sperm, egg and embryo storage.

Experts also emphasise that patients should be fully informed of the potential risks posed by cancer treatment with regard to their fertility, and that support and counselling should be available.

Dr Ben Mead, chairman of the working party, commented: "What is lacking is a uniform national strategy - leaving the present arrangements as analogous to postcode prescribing. It is time for action nationally to deal with this distressing problem."

Professor Richard Anderson of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists said that the effects of cancer treatment on fertility can have long-term implications for men and women.

"Sperm banking should be routinely available to all men and funded as part of their cancer treatment and there are very promising and increasingly successful developments in new options for women," the professor said.

"The joint guidelines give recommendations for improved provision of fertility preservation treatments for both men and women and should be heeded by healthcare professionals, service providers and policy makers responsible for providing good quality care to these patients," he added.

Cath Foot, Cancer Research UK's head of policy, said: "More people are surviving cancer but some still experience long-term effects, like fertility problems, from treatment. This report highlights a worrying inequality in access to fertility treatments across the country.

"The NHS should ensure that NICE guidance is properly followed so that any fertility risk from cancer treatment is explained to patients who should be offered access to sperm, egg and embryo storage," she added.