Life-saving cancer treatments can sometimes be accompanied by unavoidable, life-altering side effects. This is especially true for young adult patients, who may survive cancer only to find that the treatment has caused them to be infertile. Fortunately, we have made great strides in helping our patients become parents.
"A huge concern for most young adults or cancer survivors is knowing whether they can have a family later in life,” explains Denise Rokitka, MD, MPH. "It is a huge quality-of-life issue. Not only is the cancer devastating, but being told you can’t have children doubles the devastation."
Dr. Rokitka is the newly appointed Director of the Young Adult Program and Oncofertility Program, and for years she has quietly helped many of our cancer survivors plan and finance the process of starting a family.
Dr. Rokitka and her team can assist young adult patients with:
- Fertility preservation, including preservation of egg, sperm or embryos, or medications to preserve ovarian function during chemotherapy or radiation/cancer therapy. Thanks to donations to the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation, assistance may be available to help offset the costs associated with the preservation.
- Review of planned cancer treatment, including discussion of possible risks to fertility, based on treatment regimens.
- Review of costs and options for financing procedures such as in vitro fertilization (IVF). Roswell Park is able to offer some financial assistance, thanks to funding from the Livestrong Foundation.
- Answering common questions about average success rates or any costs beyond the funding we provide.
"We talk all the time about being a comprehensive cancer center," says Dr. Rokitka, "and this is a very good example of how we work as a collaborative team to help patients. Depending on the case, I am even able to contact the primary team before treatment to discuss the timing and things that can be done in advance of cancer treatment to preserve fertility. Then I can offer prompt follow-up, and it is a very fluid process."
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Cancer treatment can often happen very quickly, so having members of the team on one campus, who are used to working together, has a distinct advantage for patients. When egg harvesting and preservation is possible, there is a window of time that is necessary to complete the process. Medical clearance, application processing and other procedures can be expedited in such an environment.
"The sooner we know a patient’s wishes, the sooner we can put the wheels in motion," says Dr. Rokitka. "This can mean the difference between their ability to have a family or not."
According to Dr. Rokitka, Roswell Park is on the cutting edge of many of the fertility issues facing our patients, including transgender concerns, adoption exploration and psychosocial support. The program currently assists approximately 25 people a month, and the impact is inspirational.
"When their treatment is completed, they have something to look forward to," explains Dr. Rokitka. One of the best parts of her job is watching parents with their new families look toward the future with hope. For example, recently a transgender couple successfully conceived a child and are now able to enjoy the family they always wanted. Several other young patients with newly diagnosed cancer were able to store eggs before undergoing cancer treatment, offering them the chance to conceive in the future.
The oncofertility service is available seven days a week. Patients should ask their physician to request an oncofertility consultation with Dr. Rokitka, or call 1-800-ROSWELL.