Amid national abortion debate, American Cancer Society warns fertility preservation for cancer patients could be at risk in future

More than 32,000 newly diagnosed young cancer patients now live in states that have imposed or have looming restrictions on abortion, according to a new study published Monday in The Lancet Oncology.

Because many life-saving cancer treatments interfere with future fertility, many teens and young adults with cancer choose to freeze eggs, sperm, or embryos in hopes of having families later in life.

Now, following the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, the American Cancer Society warns that their fertility preservation options could be at risk in the future.

Possible ramifications for cancer patients could include potential restrictions on genetic testing, storage and disposal of embryos, even those created in the lab, according to researchers at the American Cancer Society.

A pregnant woman sits by a window in an undated image.

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For now, these concerns are hypothetical. Recent legislation has focused primarily on restricting abortion, and laws regarding embryos or other methods of fertility preservation are not explicit, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a human rights research organization. to abortion.

However, Guttmacher and other abortion rights advocates have raised it as a possibility in the future. And they argue that some state laws refer to the protection of an “unborn child” without clearly defining whether that can include an embryo. That could make it difficult for health care providers to know when they’ve broken the law, they say.

Researchers from the American Cancer Society studied more than 120,000 young patients between the ages of 15 and 44 who were diagnosed with cancer in 2018, finding that more than 68% needed to preserve their fertility.

Of those, more than 32,000 patients — including more than 20,000 women — came from the 22 states where abortion bans exist or are expected to be implemented, according to the study. Texas, Ohio and Georgia were the states with the highest numbers of newly diagnosed young cancer patients whose fertility preservation care might be compromised.

PHOTO: A pregnant woman is shown in silhouette in an undated image.

A pregnant woman is shown in silhouette in an undated image.

STOCK PHOTO/Oscar Wong/Getty Images

“Continued monitoring of the health effects of the Supreme Court’s decision on cancer patients and their families is warranted,” said Xuesong Han, Ph.D., study lead author, scientific director and researcher. on health services at the American Cancer Society.

Anti-abortion group Charlotte Lozier Institute called the American Cancer Society’s warning misleading.

“A plain reading of state pro-life laws shows that this study is nothing more than an act of fearmongering, which does a great disservice to the medical community and to American women,” said Tara Sander Lee, Ph.D., of the institute.

Researchers found that patients from 22 states with abortion restrictions were more likely to live in non-metropolitan areas, belong to poorer counties, and were of white or black ethnicity, compared to patients from 28 States where abortion remained legal.

“We have not yet begun to see exactly how the Dobbs decision affects fertility; however, it is clear that there will be a monumental impact,” said Dr. Eleonora Teplinsky, head of medical breast oncology at Valley Health System and Assistant Clinical Professor. of Medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

Fertility preservation, while possible in a less restrictive state, will create new barriers and could deepen geographic and socioeconomic disparities, the study says.

“Travelling to another state for fertility care will place an undue burden, especially on the most vulnerable of these patients – medical, financial and psychological,” said Dr. Sunita Nasta, professor of clinical medicine at the Abramson Cancer Center in the University of Pennsylvania. , adding that “compromised access to care leads to poorer outcomes”.

“Treatment of aggressive cancers is usually urgent. Fertility preservation must be accomplished within days to weeks. If these procedures are limited by these prohibitions, patients will face the burden of losing fertility or delaying treatment. “, said Nasta.

“Many patients make treatment decisions based on fertility issues. If fertility preservation is even more at risk than we think, we’ll likely start to see even more patients opting out of life-saving cancer treatment.” , Teplinsky said.

“The ability to protect their choices with appropriate fertility care gives these patients the freedom to be aggressive about choosing a treatment for the best outcomes rather than what might affect their future fertility,” Nasta added.

Khushali Jhaveri, MD, a board-certified internal medicine physician, is a hematology/oncology researcher at Moffitt Cancer Center and a member of the ABC News Medical Unit.

ABC News

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