STUDY QUESTION: Do female childhood cancer survivors (CCSs) express a decreased desire to have children and do they use reproductive health care more often compared to women without a history of cancer?
SUMMARY ANSWER: Overall, no difference was found in the desire to have children between CCSs and controls, whereas CCSs consult a fertility specialist more often, at a younger age, and sooner after their first attempt at conceiving.
WHAT IS KNOWN ALREADY: Female CCSs may face a shorter than anticipated reproductive window as a result of their cancer treatment. Little is known about their desire to have children and use of reproductive health care, especially in relation to their former cancer treatment.
STUDY DESIGN, SIZE, DURATION: This study is part of the DCOG LATER-VEVO study, a nationwide retrospective cohort study on female fertility in Dutch CCSs. In total, 1749 CCSs and 1673 controls were invited for the study. Data collection took place between January 2008 and May 2014.
PARTICIPANTS/MATERIALS, SETTING, METHODS: Data on the desire to have children and use of reproductive health care were collected by questionnaire. The control group consisted of sisters from CCSs and females from the general population. In total, 1106 (63%) CCSs and 818 (49%) controls completed the questionnaire.
MAIN RESULTS AND THE ROLE OF CHANCE: Overall, no difference was found in the desire to have children between CCSs and controls (86% and 89%, respectively). However, survivors of a CNS tumour were less likely to desire children and CCSs without biological children at time of study were more likely to report that their desire to have children was unfulfilled because of medical reasons (9%), compared to controls (1%). In total, 12% of CCSs ever consulted a fertility specialist compared to 10% of controls (OR = 1.7, 95% CI: 1.3-2.4). Mean (SD) age at time of their first visit was 27.7 (4.4) years for CCSs and 29.9 (3.9) years for controls (P < 0.01). In total, 43% of CCSs consulted a fertility specialist within 12 months after they had started trying to achieve a pregnancy, compared to 27% of controls. Risk factors for consulting a fertility specialist included a previous diagnosis of renal tumour, leukaemia, lymphoma or a CNS tumour, and treatment with alkylating chemotherapy, gonadotoxic radiotherapy or both. In total, 70% of CCSs reported a female factor as cause of subfertility compared to 34% of controls (OR = 4.5, 95% CI: 2.3-8.7) and in this specific group, CCSs seemed more likely to use fertility treatment (OR = 2.9, 95% CI: 1.0-8.2).
LIMITATIONS, REASONS FOR CAUTION: Because of the low number of CCSs who used fertility treatment, we were not able to look at specific diagnoses and treatment types associated with using fertility treatment. Nevertheless, we were able to identify diagnostic- and treatment-related risk factors for consulting a fertility specialist. Details regarding consultations with a fertility specialist and fertility treatment were based on self-report and may therefore be subject to recall bias.
WIDER IMPLICATIONS OF THE FINDINGS: Decisions about parenthood affect all CCSs. It's important to evaluate reproductive intentions and function timely after cancer treatment, so CCSs can be adequately counselled regarding family planning and fertility treatment.
STUDY FUNDING/COMPETING INTEREST(S): This work was supported by the Dutch Cancer Society (Grant no. VU 2006-3622) and the Children Cancer Free Foundation (Project no. 20).
TRIAL REGISTRATION NUMBER: NTR2922.