Is fertility preservation a part of comprehensive cancer care in the USA? A study of NCI-designated cancer center websites

Abstract

Purpose

The delivery of oncofertility care remains challenging, and cancer patients increasingly utilize online health information to fill knowledge gaps in their fertility care. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the website content of NCI-designated cancer centers to assess the quantity and quality of patient-oriented information pertaining to fertility preservation (FP).

Methods

We systematically abstracted, evaluated, and compared website content for NCI-designated cancer centers (CC) and comprehensive cancer centers (CCC) pertaining to oncofertility and fertility preservation for both male and female cancer patients. Readability of each website was evaluated using the Flesch-Kincaid grade level and Flesch reading ease score.

Results

Overall, 72% of websites mentioned the effect of cancer or cancer therapy on fertility potential. Only 56% of websites had a page devoted solely to the effect of cancer on fertility. Information for female patients was more common than for male patients (59% vs. 50%). CCC websites were more likely to include information about the effects of cancer treatment on fertility, the option for FP and details for FP methods. The majority of websites did not address risks and benefits of FP, moral and ethical considerations, or details about the success rates or costs. The median readability score correlated with a 12th grade reading level.

Conclusion

Patient-directed information pertaining to oncofertility and FP is inadequate on the majority of websites, and represents a gap in comprehensive cancer care and survivorship planning. Patients who rely primarily on internet-based information regarding oncofertility may not be well-informed about FP options in the critical period between cancer diagnosis and treatment.

Implications for Cancer Survivors

Cancer patients and survivors interested in future fertility should be referred to reproductive specialists, when possible, for a comprehensive discussion about fertility preservation prior to cancer therapy and fertility options after completing cancer therapy.

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Correspondence to Akanksha Mehta.

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Vest, A.N., Kuete, N.T. & Mehta, A. Is fertility preservation a part of comprehensive cancer care in the USA? A study of NCI-designated cancer center websites. J Cancer Surviv (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11764-020-00983-8

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Keyword

  • Oncofertility
  • Fertility preservation
  • Cancer survivorship
  • NCI