According to Breastcancer.org, approximately one in eight women in the United States will develop breast cancer. Advanced diagnostic and treatment techniques allow many women to survive a cancer diagnosis, but they often suffer long-term consequences of cancer treatment, which may include infertility.
Prior to beginning cancer treatment, individuals should consider fertility preservation. Fertility preservation protects reproductive tissues so that a person can have children in the future.
Fertility specialists at Arizona Associates for Reproductive Health are happy to provide individuals in Scottsdale, AZ, Gilbert, AZ, and the surrounding areas with information about what to know regarding breast cancer and fertility preservation.
Breast cancer itself should not affect a woman’s fertility. However, the medications and techniques that are commonly used to treat breast cancer can result in temporary or permanent infertility. The risk of infertility depends on the type of medications/treatments used, the doses given, and the patient’s age at the time of treatment.
The treatment that is most likely to impact female fertility is chemotherapy. Chemotherapy targets cancer by killing cells in the body that are dividing quickly (as cancer cells do). However, the cells of the ovaries, or the oocytes, also divide quickly, so they are often damaged by chemotherapy.
Since a woman is born with a finite number of eggs, those destroyed by chemotherapy will never come back. Depending on a woman’s ovarian reserve at the time of chemotherapy, treatment can result in premature or early menopause, which ultimately makes a woman infertile.
There is no way to know if breast cancer treatment will make a woman infertile, but since it is a possibility, women should consider whether fertility preservation is the right choice for them. Fertility preservation protects the eggs prior to chemotherapy so that a woman has the chance to become pregnant sometime after cancer treatment is complete. There are two primary fertility preservation options to consider prior to breast cancer treatment: egg freezing and embryo freezing.
Egg freezing allows our fertility doctors to collect and preserve a woman’s eggs so that they can be used in a later IVF treatment. The goal is to collect as many eggs as possible in order to have multiple chances for a successful IVF cycle. Once eggs are collected, they are quickly frozen so that they are preserved in their current state.
Embryo freezing is similar to egg freezing, except the eggs are frozen after they have been fertilized and developed into embryos. Embryo freezing may be preferred by women who are already married or in a committed relationship.
Prior to egg freezing or embryo freezing women undergo ovarian stimulation. The hormone medication that is used to stimulate the ovaries causes a woman’s estrogen levels to rise. To lower the risk of potential breast cancer complications or recurrences, we often suggest that women with breast cancer take a medication to block estrogen receptors (e.g. tamoxifen) or to lower estrogen levels (e.g. letrozole) during ovarian stimulation, and possibly up to two weeks after egg retrieval. This should be discussed with the patient’s treating oncologist.
If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer and are concerned about how treatment may affect your fertility, the doctors at Arizona Associates for Reproductive Health can provide you with more information about fertility preservation.