Preserving Your Fertility When You Have Breast Cancer

breast cancer and fertilityBecause October is National Breast Cancer awareness month, we wanted to address the important topic of how you can preserve your fertility while fighting this horrible disease.  Unfortunately, breast cancer treatments can leave some women infertile.  This means that if you do plan to have children in the future, you should discuss your options with your doctor before beginning cancer treatments.

There are currently three ways in which doctors are working to preserve fertility for cancer patients.  The first is by using treatments that will produce embryos or eggs.  One example is in vitro fertilization (IVF).  With this procedure, you will take hormones to increase your egg supply.  The doctor will remove your eggs, fertilize them with the sperm of your partner or donor, and freeze them for later use.  Another method, which involves freezing unfertilized eggs, has met with mixed success and is currently not considered as reliable as IVF.

The second thing doctors can do for cancer patients is take steps to reduce the impact of chemotherapy on their fertility.  Some combinations of chemotherapy drugs are less likely to affect fertility than others.  For example, FEC and AC carry a smaller risk than CMF.  Unfortunately, for those over 40, all chemotherapies carry a greater risk of permanently stopping your ovaries from producing eggs.  Currently, scientists are researching the use of luteinising hormone blocker injections during chemotherapy. These injections temporarily stop the ovaries from working, and may shield them from the impact of chemotherapy.

Finally, doctors can try to preserve a patient’s ovarian tissue for future use.  This would involve a minor surgery in which some of your ovarian tissue is removed, then frozen.  After cancer treatment is complete, the healthy tissue is put back in place.  This procedure is relatively new and does not have widespread data, but has met with some success so far.