The majority of young breast cancer patients are not being referred for treatment which could preserve their fertility after chemotherapy, says a UK charity.
Most women will survive breast cancer but chemotherapy can damage the ovaries and even bring on early menopause.
The charity Breast Cancer Care spoke to 50 breast cancer specialist doctors and 176 women who had been diagnosed with breast cancer before they were 45 years old. Seventeen of the specialists said they did not discuss fertility with patients at diagnosis. Eighty-eight percent of the women surveyed said they were not referred for fertility care.
Extrapolating this statistic Breast Cancer Care estimates that 5,000 patients across the UK miss out on the necessary referral every year.
'There are two clear reasons for this: many healthcare professionals are not discussing fertility options and clear referral systems are not in place. We urgently need all healthcare professionals to talk to women about their fertility options at the point of diagnosis.'
Grete Brauten-Smith, a specialist nurse working with Breast Cancer Care, added: 'A consultation with a fertility expert might not mean a guaranteed pregnancy but we must ensure women have the chance of considering their options.'
The charity also found that three-fifths of female members of the public were unaware of the possible effects of breast cancer treatment on fertility.
Patient Jackie Scully - who was offered fertility counselling - was interviewed for the survey and said that she 'looked at fertility preservation as a way of taking some of the control back from the cancer, and it is really reassuring to know we have seven frozen embryos'.
Juliet Tizzard, interim director of strategy for the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, told The Guardian that making a fertility referral following a breast cancer diagnosis was seen as medical best practice. 'We do patients a disservice if we do not do this, and we urge any clinician who does not routinely refer all cancer patients who wish to freeze their eggs to do so as a matter of course,' she said.