Adopting After Cancer is Possible, and Oncology Nurses May Provide Initial Guidance

Cancer survivors who hope to adopt children may face some extra obstacles, but a history of cancer isn't necessarily a dealbreaker, especially when an adoption takes place within the United States.
BY Lauren M. Green
PUBLISHED July 13, 2015
Cancer survivors who hope to adopt children may face some extra obstacles, but a history of cancer isn’t necessarily a dealbreaker, especially when an adoption takes place within the United States.

That news was among the findings of a study published online today in the journal Cancer, which also determined that people interested in adopting after treatment for cancer need more and better information from their health care providers about the process, and that oncology nurses are especially well-positioned to provide that help.

The research, conducted by 77 nurses who surveyed adoption agencies across 15 states, highlights the importance of survivors having a thorough understanding of the costs of adoption, the time it can take and what role their medical history plays in the process.

With little known about the rate at which cancer survivors successfully adopt a child or about their experiences during the adoption process, a research team led by Gwendolyn Quinn and Susan Vadaparampil of the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Fla., asked oncology nurses who were participating in the center’s ENRICH training program to contact and conduct interviews with adoption agencies.

ENRICH (Educating Nurses about Reproductive Issues in Cancer Healthcare) is an eight-week eLearning training program aimed at helping oncology nurses get up to speed on current research efforts and options to reduce the risk of infertility, as well as providing tools to help them discuss family building with their adolescent and young-adult patients and survivors. The study was designed to prepare these professionals to discuss adoption effectively by providing them with some knowledge of the adoption process and the varying requirements across agencies, especially as they apply to prospective parents with a cancer history.

Cost is one of the most important challenges survivors who are trying to adopt may face, as many have already been burdened by the high costs of cancer treatment. The survey found a wide range of adoption-related fees — from a minimum of $3,000 to a high of $75,000 — but most frequently, these fees ranged from between $20,000 and $30,000.

The researchers found that not all adoption agencies kept records on whether prospective adoptive parents were cancer survivors, but those that did track this information reported an average of 10 former cancer patients a year seeking adoption.

Although a few agencies reported that a cancer history in an adoptive parent could be discouraging for a birth mother, most reported the opposite — that birth mothers might feel confident in choosing a parent who has overcome hardships and has an appreciation for life.

Prospective parents’ medical history is typically required by adoption agencies, and this study confirmed that practice, but worry about providing that information is often intensified among cancer survivors, the researchers noted.

The study found that agencies usually require each adopting parent to provide a letter from a physician regarding his or her health and medical history. Quinn explained in a statement that this exposes a potentially discriminatory practice akin to restricting employment opportunities for people with disabilities as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), adding that “perhaps these data will bring to light the need for policy revisions in adoption processes that comply with ADA requirements.”

International adoptions involved greater restrictions for prospective adoptive parents with a cancer history, the researchers found. While most countries did not have an outright ban on cancer survivors adopting, most did impose stricter medical documentation requirements for this population, and some restricted cancer survivors’ adoption options to older children or those with special needs.

After conducting the interviews, the nurses in the study reported feeling that they had gained valuable information about the adoption process, and that they had an improved ability to discuss adoption with patients undergoing cancer treatment.

“The most important thing I learned … was to encourage survivors to do their homework before approaching an agency,” one nurse stressed. “Call and ask specific health-related questions up front, so there are no surprises as the process continues.”

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