Feinstein Institute grant funds fertility decision tool for women cancer patients

Assistant professor Catherine Benedict (Photo courtesy of Northwell Health)

Feinstein Institute for Medical Research assistant professor Catherine Benedict has been awarded a two-year, $165,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health to understand how young women who completed cancer treatment make fertility decisions and plan for future family-building. This study will lead to the development of a decision-making and planning tool to help young survivors evaluate their options for having children after cancer. This current study is a continuation of Dr. Benedict’s research, which found that young adult females who survive cancer do not receive enough information about their fertility as part of their survivorship care.

There are more than 400,000 young adult female cancer survivors currently living in the United States. One of this population’s main concerns after treatment is fertility since many cancer treatments have been associated with infertility issues and place women at greater risk for early menopause. Dr. Benedict’s research will examine fertility decision-making after cancer treatment to ensure that patients receive the information they need and take appropriate steps for successful family building. 

“Even if young women make some fertility plans before undergoing cancer treatment, many are still unclear of how to navigate their options post treatment when they actually want to plan for a family,” said Benedict, who is also a member of the new Center for Health Innovations and Outcomes Research. “They are often surprised with the cost of fertility treatments, unsure if they will go through early menopause or unaware of their options as a whole. I thank the NIH for their support – this will help us develop a tool that can weigh the medical facts with other considerations and help our patients develop a tailored fertility plan.” 

Benedict and her team will collect data about how young women after cancer treatment make decisions about future family-building, their decision-support needs, as well as preferences and perceived barriers to making a choice. This will be used to create a web-based tool to help guide female cancer survivors through the decision-making process about their fertility options.

“This is novel and innovative work,” said Michael A. Diefenbach, professor at the Feinstein Institute, director of behavioral research in the Department of Medicine at Northwell Health and Benedict’s mentor. “The existing research focuses on informing patients about fertility implications of cancer treatment before their treatment starts. Dr. Benedict and others have clearly demonstrated that women at this point in their life are less able to make decisions about children. They are too focused on getting through treatment and beating cancer. From a decision standpoint, the time after treatment is better suited for planning and decision making, but is often overlooked by health care providers to inform patients.”

“Dr. Benedict’s previous research identified a large need in survivor care for young female cancer survivors,” said Dr. Kevin J. Tracey, president and CEO of the Feinstein Institute. “The NIH’s investment in the next phase of this research is a major step to filling this need and improving care for this patient population.” 

The recently-formed Center for Health Innovations and Outcomes Research at the Feinstein Institute leverages technology and big data to deliver new solutions that improve health care delivery.

“Dr. Benedict’s study is an example of how our researchers in the Center for Heath Innovation and Outcomes Research are driving the mission to improve delivery of health care,” said Dr. Thomas McGinn, head of the Center for Health Innovations and Outcomes Research at the Feinstein Institute and senior vice president of physician network operations at Northwell Health. “We are proud to have the NIH’s support in this endeavor, which will provide patients with private, individualized support through devices that are familiar to them.”


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