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Study: Few Women with Cancer Freeze Eggs to Preserve Fertility

Siri Stafford/Photodisc/Thinkstock(SAN FRANCISCO) -- Few women in their childbearing years with cancer opt to preserve their eggs before going through chemotherapy and radiation treatment, according to the findings of a new study.

The research, carried out at the University of California at San Francisco, surveyed more than 1,000 women ages 18 to 40 who were diagnosed with five different cancers: leukemia, Hodgkin's disease, Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, breast cancer and gastrointestinal cancer.  The data showed that only 61 percent of the women had received counseling on infertility and only 4 percent of women overall pursued fertility preservation.

White women who were younger and college-educated were among the most likely to receive counsel on fertility options from their doctors.

"There remains a large unmet need for fertility preservation," said Dr. Mitchell Rosen, lead author of the study and director of the UCSF Reproductive Labs and Fertility Preservation Program.  "Chemotherapy and radiation save lives, but they potentially compromise the ability to carry on a legacy, something that we all may take for granted."

Just as it is automatic for patients to consult with a plastic surgeon to discuss reconstruction after a mastectomy, Rosen said fertility consultation should be a part of the process, as well.  But, while reconstructive surgery is covered by health insurance, fertility preservation is not, and it can cost as high as $20,000.

It is difficult for an oncologist to predict whether a woman will be infertile after her cancer treatments, but age and the type and dose of chemotherapy given factor into risk.  Because of this, a good working relationship is needed between the oncologist and the fertility specialist to provide options to women, said Dr. Jennifer Litton, assistant professor of breast medical oncology at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

"This conversation needs to happen early during treatment decisions in order to have enough time to stimulate and retrieve the eggs before chemotherapy needs to start," said Litton.  "There are certainly…some cases where it may not be appropriate as the treatment cannot wait the potential two- to six-week delay."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio