Infertile cancer survivors wanting to adopt are at risk of discrimination, according to the findings of a new study, which also suggest more family planning advice should be provided to cancer patients.
The warning comes in light of new findings published in Cancer, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society. Researchers examined the adoption process for cancer survivors and the potential difficulties they face.
According to the most recent statistics from the Office of Children’s Issues, adoption figures in the US have fallen dramatically in the last decade. In 2004, 22,991 adoptions were recorded, but according to the most recent statistics in 2013, this figure had fallen by two thirds, to 7,092.
Infertility is a risk for cancer survivors due to the side effects of chemotherapy. Although there are a growing number of fertility treatments now available, the permanent or severe nature of a patient’s infertility can leave adoption as the only option available for those wanting to start, or add to, a family.
The lack of data regarding the success rate of cancer survivors adopting prompted Gwendolyn Quinn, PhD, and Susan Vadaparampil, PhD, of the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, FL, to investigate.
They asked a team of oncology nurses, who were participating in a training program, to contact and conduct interviews with adoption agencies. A total of 77 nurses across 15 states provided summaries of their experience.
The nurses reported a wide range of adoption fees from a minimum of $3,000 to $75,000. Not all adoption agencies kept records on whether prospective parents were cancer survivors, but those that did reported an average of 10 cancer survivors a year seeking adoption.
Although a few agencies reported that birth mothers were discouraged if a potential adoptive parent had a history of cancer, the majority were not deterred. Some birth mothers even considered the experience of overcoming cancer to be a positive, as cancer survivors may have an enhanced appreciation of life.Agencies usually require adopting parents to provide a letter from a physician regarding their health and medical history. According to Dr. Quinn, this practice may expose a potential discriminatory practice akin to restricting employment opportunities for people with disabilities according to the American with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The nurses also found that international adoption agencies place much greater restrictions on prospective adoptive parents with a cancer history.
Following the interviews, nurses in the study reported feeling they gained valuable information about the adoption process and also felt an improved ability to discuss adoption with cancer patients currently undergoing treatment.
Dr. Quinn believes this study should prompt more nurses to “better inform patients about parenthood options for future.” She adds:
“Additionally, perhaps this data will bring to light the need for policy revisions in adoption processes that comply with ADA requirements.”