However, Drs Allan Pacey and Adam Glaser warned the conference, organised by Teenage Cancer Trust, that if doctors failed to discuss the effect that the cancer or its treatment could have on their future fertility with their young patients, the patients would have to make vital choices about treatment without all the facts they really needed in order to reach a decision and give truly informed consent.
Dr Pacey, senior lecturer in andrology at the Academic Unit of Reproductive and Developmental Medicine, University of Sheffield, UK, said: "Young people face a double whammy when given a diagnosis of cancer: not only do they have to deal with the news that they have a potentially life-threatening illness, but also that it could affect their fertility in future years. Suddenly, they have to discuss and consider intimate matters, which are often highly embarrassing to them, at a time when they are at their most vulnerable issues to do with sex, which they may never have discussed with another adult before, let alone with a relative stranger.
"It is a complex and highly emotive area. Both staff and young patients can find it very difficult to deal with fertility issues in the time-scale available prior to treatment."
Dr Glaser, consultant paediatric oncologist at the Department of Paediatric and Adolescent Oncology, St James's University Hospital, Leeds, UK, said that medical staff might feel just as embarrassed and awkward about raising the subject with their young patients especially when there was a need to start treatment urgently. However, in order to obtain truly informed consent for many cancer treatments, this subject must be openly addressed.