Life after cancer: Planning for children after treatment

Experimental treatments being researched to help protect women's fertility

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SAN ANTONIO – A cancer diagnosis can be devastating, but before considering treatments, doctors are now thinking about patients' lives after survival.

With higher survival rates, controlling quality of life beyond cancer is possible.

It means planning ahead, especially when it comes to having kids.

“I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma when I was 16,” Dr. Greg Aune said. “It was one of the most significant events of my life.”

It's the type of news that changes a person's life trajectory. Aune's diagnosis and experience with cancer led him to become a pediatric oncologist.

READ MORE: Decades after colon cancer, mom urges young adults to get screened

“I run a research lab; try to solve some of the problems we still face with many of our patients that survive,” he said.

One of those problems is having children. It is something that can become difficult or even impossible after chemotherapy or other cancer treatments.

Before Aune went through treatment, someone suggested he save his sperm, so he did.

“I have two sets of twins now, age 14 and almost 9,” he said. “Without them, I would have had no chance of having my own biological children.”

Dr. Jennifer Knudtson, with UT Health San Antonio's Fertility Center, consults with cancer patients and their doctors and families about the patient’s plans for the future.

It can be a difficult conversation and hard for some patients who are still children themselves.


“Now egg freezing is standard of care and this happened in the last few years,” she said. “It used to be experimental.”

Aune also shares his story with patients to help them.

“I can tell them, ‘I have done this,’” he said. “Unfortunately it’s embarrassing, but trust me. Later you're going to appreciate the fact that you have that opportunity.”

Another factor patients have to consider is the cost.

“We partnered up with the Livestrong Foundation, and we help give patients get medication and give everything really for a discounted cost,” Knudtson said.

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Providing worried cancer patients with hope and excitement for the future. Knudtson said she is also looking at some experimental procedures for women in this situation.

One of them is giving them a medication that basically puts their ovaries into menopause, which, she hopes, will protect them from the harsh chemotherapy.

Knudtson said her research helps give her a purpose. She is constantly looking into other medications that can help protect a woman’s ovaries so they have another option aside from invasive egg or embryo freezing.



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