Poor information ‘could rob young cancer patients of chance to have children’

Around three in 10 young patients surveyed said they were not told that cancer can cause future fertility problems Credit: Chris Young/PA

Young cancer patients may be robbed of their chance to have children due to poor communication of fertility information, a charity has warned.

Young people often experience difficulties accessing fertility services or receiving information about the impact their treatment may have on their bodies, the Teenage Cancer Trust said.

Around 15% of young people with cancer have a high risk of future fertility problems due to the impact of treatment, the charity said.

However, its survey of 242 16 to 24-year-olds found that almost three in 10 (29%) young patients were not told about this, or what options were available for fertility preservation.

And 44% of those who did have a conversation about fertility with a health professional were not satisfied with the information they were given.

The charity also raised concerns over delays in diagnosis and access to mental health support in their response to the Government’s ‘Advancing our health: prevention in the 2020s’ consultation.

Louise Soanes, director of services at the Teenage Cancer Trust, said: “Teenagers and young adults who have lived through cancer have had so much taken away from them already. They should not lose the ability to start a family of their own too.

“We found that over a quarter (29%) of young people who were treated for cancer did not have a conversation about fertility with a health professional, while 44% of young people were not satisfied with the information they were given.

“This is not acceptable and that’s why we’re calling for every young person with cancer to have their fertility options explained to them by a health professional.“

Every year 2,397 young people are diagnosed with cancer in England. It is the biggest killer of young people by disease.

The charity is calling for young people to be able to freeze their eggs or sperm – fully funded by the NHS.

It also wants officials to launch a public awareness campaign for rare and less common cancers, such as those experienced by young people.

It said awareness of the signs and symptoms of cancer in young people is low, with many GPs only seeing one or two cases of teenage cancer in their career and young people are more likely to have to visit their GP repeatedly before diagnosis.

And it is urging The Department of Health and Social Care to prioritise funding research into why geographical inequalities exist in cancer care.

Recent research by the charity showed that teenagers and young adults with cancer living in the least deprived areas had higher five-year survival rates than those in the most deprived areas

The charity also said it was concerned that more than a million boys and men are set to miss out on the HPV vaccine, putting them at risk of developing HPV-related cancers.

It said it welcomed the extension of the vaccination programme to all boys aged 12-13 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and all boys aged 11–12 in Scotland, but that it was disappointed those older than this do not have access.