PDF icon Infertility, cancer, and changing gender norms

Shauna Gardino, Sarah Rodriguez, & Lisa Campo-Engelstein. Journal of Cancer Survivalship, 2010 Dec 31. [Epub ahead of print]

INTRODUCTION: Recent improvements in cancer detection, treatment, and technology have increased survivorship rates. These same life-saving treatments, however, can lead to infertility or sterility. Oncofertility, an emerging field at the intersection of cancer and oncology, centers on providing cancer patients with the potential to preserve their biological fertility.

METHODS: We examine the history of how men and women have been treated for infertility and analyze contemporary studies of how women without cancer respond to infertility.

RESULTS: Both female and male cancer patients and survivors value their fertility, although there is conflicting evidence on the degree to which women and men value fertility. Some studies have found that women and men value their fertility equally while others found that women value their fertility more than men. Gendered norms around fertility and parenthood seem to be changing, which may minimize these discrepancies. DISCUSSIONS/

CONCLUSIONS: Although oncofertility is a nascent field, infertility is a historically relevant medical condition that is characterized by gendered narratives and norms. An analysis of the historical evolution of the understanding and treatment of infertility leads insight into modern conceptualizations of infertility both generally and in the case of cancer. Understanding these historical and current gendered influences helps to define the current context in which cancer patients are confronting potential infertility. IMPLICATIONS FOR CANCER SURVIVORS: The insight gained from this analysis can be used to inform clinical practice, offering guidance to healthcare providers approaching cancer patients about potential infertility, regardless of gender.