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28.01.2020 | Original Article | Ausgabe 10/2020

Supportive Care in Cancer 10/2020

Toward a theoretical understanding of young female cancer survivors’ decision-making about family-building post-treatment

Supportive Care in Cancer > Ausgabe 10/2020
Catherine Benedict, Alexandria L. Hahn, Alyssa McCready, Joanne F. Kelvin, Michael Diefenbach, Jennifer S. Ford
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Electronic supplementary material

The online version of this article (https://​doi.​org/​10.​1007/​s00520-020-05307-1) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
Alexandria Hahn completed this work while at Northwell Health and Joanne Kelvin completed this work while at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

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Family-building after gonadotoxic treatment often requires in vitro fertilization, surrogacy, or adoption, with associated challenges such as uncertain likelihood of success, high costs, and complicated laws regulating surrogacy and adoption. This study examined adolescent and young adult female (AYA-F) survivors’ experiences and decision-making related to family-building after cancer.


Semi-structured interviews explored fertility and family-building themes (N = 25). Based on an a priori conceptual model, hypothesis coding and grounded theory coding methods guided qualitative analysis.


Participants averaged 29 years old (SD = 6.2) were mostly White and educated. Four major themes were identified: sources of uncertainty, cognitive and emotional reactions, coping behaviors, and decision-making. Uncertainty stemmed from medical, personal, social, and financial factors, which led to cognitive, emotional, and behavioral reactions to reduce distress, renegotiate identity, adjust expectations, and consider “next steps” toward family-building goals. Most AYA-Fs were unaware of their fertility status, felt uninformed about family-building options, and worried about expected challenges. Despite feeling that “action” was needed, many were stalled in decision-making to evaluate fertility or address information needs; postponement and avoidance were common. Younger AYA-Fs tended to be less concerned.


AYA-Fs reported considerable uncertainty, distress, and unmet needs surrounding family-building decisions post-treatment. Support services are needed to better educate patients and provide opportunity for referral and early preparation for potential challenges. Reproductive counseling should occur throughout survivorship care to address medical, psychosocial, and financial difficulties, allow time for informed decision-making, and the opportunity to prepare for barriers such as high costs.

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