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Young Breast Cancer Patients Are Often Faced With an Impossible Choice

Breast cancer treatments often cause infertility in young patients, who may not be able to afford the alternative.


Suzanne Stone

Chief Strategic Solutions & Programs Officer, Livestrong

For adolescents and young adults (AYA), defined as patients aged 20 – 39, cancer during these peak childbearing years often devastates their ability to have children. Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer and the leading cause of death due to cancer for AYA women.[i] Of women aged 35 and younger who are diagnosed with breast cancer, only eight percent give birth after finishing their treatment, and only three percent of women below the age of 45.

Fertility preservation is critical for young cancer patients who hope to have children in the future, but the costs of treatment can be prohibitive. The average costs of breast cancer treatment run anywhere between $20,000 – $100,000 and fertility preservation bills are not covered by most insurance plans, extinguishing the hope to have children for many AYA cancer patients. These patients often need to choose between sacrificing their ability to start a family or accumulating insurmountable debt while paying for life-saving treatment and fertility preservation.

Only 11 states currently have fertility preservation laws for medically induced infertility, leaving most Americans without coverage. Patients without state-provided coverage may have to turn to family, friends, and non-profits that offer grants and loans to help make preservation possible. In response to this growing problem, especially for young adults, the Livestrong Foundation launched the Livestrong Fertility Program in 2004. To date, the program has provided over 16,000 patients with access to deeply discounted services within a network of fertility clinics across the country.

“Cancer patients have a unique urgency when it comes to fertility. They don’t have time to save money for the procedure,” said Sharon Moayeri, MD, MPH, MS of OC Fertility in California. “When a cancer patient walks in my door, I want to do everything I can to make sure their future family is something we can help with.”  In addition to discounts on treatment, Livestrong Fertility offers patients access to $4,300 worth of free medication through a partnership with EMD Serono.

Partnerships like these built through Livestrong Fertility have saved cancer patients over $81 million in fertility services and medications, but there is still a tremendous amount of work.

The side effects of cancer treatment remain undeniable and unacceptable.  State-mandated insurance coverage is long overdue.  Every cancer patient deserves more than simply a chance to have a future. They deserve an opportunity to one day build a family, too.

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