What do adolescent and young adult survivors of childhood cancer think about the risk of being infertile?
The potential infertility, as well as the experience of having had cancer, affects well-being, intimate relationships and the desire to have children in the future.
Many childhood cancer survivors want to have children and worry about possible infertility.
For this qualitative study with a cross-sectional design, data were collected through 39 online focus group discussions during 2013.
Cancer survivors previously treated for selected diagnoses were identified from The Swedish Childhood Cancer Register (16-24 years old at inclusion, =5 years after diagnosis) and approached regarding study participation. Online focus group discussions of mixed sex (n = 133) were performed on a chat platform in real time. Texts from the group discussions were analysed using qualitative content analysis.
The analysis resulted in the main category Is it possible to have a baby? including five generic categories: Risk of infertility affects well-being, Dealing with possible infertility, Disclosure of possible infertility is a challenge, Issues related to heredity and Parenthood may be affected. The risk of infertility was described as having a negative impact on well-being and intimate relationships. Furthermore, the participants described hesitation about becoming a parent due to perceived or anticipated physical and psychological consequences of having had cancer.
Given the sensitive topic of the study, the response rate (36%) is considered acceptable. The sample included participants who varied with regard to received fertility-related information, current fertility status and concerns related to the risk of being infertile.
The results may be transferred to similar contexts with other groups of patients of childbearing age and a risk of impaired fertility due to disease. The findings imply that achieving parenthood, whether or not with biological children, is an area that needs to be addressed by health care services.
The study was financially supported by The Cancer Research Foundations of Radiumhemmet, The Swedish Childhood Cancer Foundation and the Doctoral School in Health Care Science, Karolinska Institutet. The authors report no conflicts of interest.