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Surgical Oncologists Least Likely to Discuss Fertility Options with Patients

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, March 12, 2012

What Quinn and her colleagues found is that "Oncologists are not trained to talk about this. Many of them don't feel comfortable, or they don't know what all the options are. It's ASTRO's suggestion, which I agree is a good one, that oncologists should plant a seed and tell patients that there's a possibility (of preserving fertility) and refer them to a practitioner who is trained to talk about this."

She adds, "In a perfect world several years from now, we'll have a better check-off system that will document in every person's medical record, so that we'll be able to see that someone, somewhere, at sometime has had this conversation with the patient. And ideally it's before any treatment has begun."

The study used the American Medical Association Masterfile to survey physicians specializing in oncology who reported that they see patients, both men and women, during their childbearing years, between 15 and 45 years of age. Of those surveyed, 32% responded, or 376.

This study, a subset of a 2010 paper that focused on all medical oncology specialists, focused on three oncology subspecialty practitioners who showed the highest variation in practice from the overall oncology practitioner population, surgical oncologists, medical oncologists and radiation oncologists.

For example, 82% of radiation oncologists and 84% of medical oncologists said they "always" or "often" discussed the impact of treatment on fertility, but only 52% of surgical oncologists answered the same way. None of the radiation oncologists, 4% of the medical oncologists and 20% of the surgical oncologists said they "never" discuss fertility treatments with their patients.

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