Fertility concerns for young cancer survivors

woman

“At a time when breast cancer treatments are improving and allowing more women to live normal lives, it is only right that we should also be helping them, where possible, to take control of their fertility, and informing them about the opportunities to have children should they so desire,” said Dr. Anne Armstrong, from the Department of Medical Oncology, the Christie NHS Foundation Trust, of the UK at the seventh European Breast Cancer Conference in Barcelona.

Because of the rising breast cancer survival rates and the trend to delay pregnancy until later in life, childless women increasingly experience fertility challenges. Dr. Armstrong and her team researched the responses from breast cancer patients to being told that treatments affected their fertility as well as those women’s attitudes to fertility options before and after cancer treatment.

The use of chemotherapy and hormonal treatments can stop ovulation, either temporarily or permanently. Some women experience early and irreversible menopause as a result. Options to preserve fertility include freezing eggs or embryos for use later with in vitro fertilization. More recently, freezing ovarian tissue for transplant back into the body has achieved some success stimulating fertility.

Dr. Armstrong’s three focus groups included 24 women under the age of 40 with early stage breast cancer. Seven of them had attended specialist fertility services. “Many of them had concerns about the implications on breast cancer survival of fertility preservation, changes to treatment to improve fertility, and also pregnancy after breast cancer,” said Dr. Armstrong. “They were also concerned that egg harvesting might carry risks to their survival. We found that many of them were getting conflicting advice from health professionals, and this led to increased anxiety and confusion.”

The women who had attended fertility services were better informed and better prepared for fertility-preserving treatment. The service provided a positive experience which helped the women cope better with difficult decisions during an already stressful time. Dr. Armstrong’s team is now looking to undertake a larger study of both patients and health professional to explore the issues more thoroughly.

Source: Mary Rice/ECCO, Medical News Today


 
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