There is no denying that the various forms of treatment for cancer are essential, and often lifesaving. Yet these treatments also often have very serious side effects – including reduced or lost fertility. This is particularly true of treatments such as chemotherapy, and radiation to the woman’s pelvic area.
Physicians treating cancer patients are obligated to fully discuss the potential side effects, including this potential effect on fertility, prior to beginning treatment. Indeed, the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s guidelines state that doctors must address the risk to fertility, and the possibility of fertility-preservation procedures, prior to cancer treatments.
It has recently come to light, however, that many physicians are simply failing to address this issue with cancer patients – particularly young women.
This omission would be bad enough if it were simply the failure to make patients aware of the risk. But this omission is made even worse by the fact that there are viable pre-treatment options for preserving fertility, if a woman is fully informed and chooses this route. For instance, a young woman faced with cancer treatments can choose to freeze and preserve eggs prior to beginning treatment, or even freezing and preserving embyos, if she has a partner with which she wishes to have children one day.
Researchers have discovered, however, that only about 4 percent of women 40 are younger have proceeded with procedures to freeze and preserve embryos or eggs prior to beginning cancer treatments. This figure alone is not shocking – until you compare it with the more than 50 percent of women in this same group who stated that they wanted to have children at some point after treatment.
This recent research found that only 61 percent of affected women were counseled by their doctor about the potential effects of treatment on fertility and their options for preserving their post-treatment fertility.
There is some encouraging news in these statistics. Although the overall rate of women choosing fertility-preservation options from 1993 to present (the period for which data is available) is only 4 percent, in recent years that figure has climbed to about 10 percent. Since more than half of women wish to have children after treatment, it thus appears that more women are receiving proper counseling.
Another problem with using available pre-treatment fertility options is, of course, the cost. Depending on the procedure, freezing eggs or embryos can cost between $8,000 to $24,000. Although some insurance plans cover these procedures, others do not. Our medical malpractice attorneys hope that, with the advent of the new federal medical-insurance laws and their emphasis on women’s reproductive services, insurance plans will not begin to cover these procedures, at least for cancer patients.
In the meantime, doctors must begin properly counseling young female patients about the risks to fertility, and the options available. The failure to offer this counseling is the failure to obtain informed consent prior to treatments, a form of medical malpractice.
If you have lost fertility due to cancer treatments, and were not counseled prior to treatment about the risks and your options, talk to an experienced medical malpractice attorney about your legal options. It may be that the risk of legal liability will at last encourage physicians to properly inform cancer patients of their own risks.
For a free consultation with an experienced Chicago medical malpractice lawyer at Passen & Powell, call us at (312) 527-4500.