With proper management and medical monitoring, a diagnosis of breast cancer might not severely inhibit a woman’s fertility.
Fertility Concerns Correlated to Breast Cancer
More than 11,000 American women age 40 and younger are diagnosed with this malignancy yearly. Some, however, are undeterred by this news and strive to one day conceive children. Fortunately, this desire may be possible. However, there are several factors that can impact fertility levels. Primary influencers are the woman’s age, severity of the malignancy and the specific course of treatment employed.
- Age – Age could be the most significant fertility-impeding issue. Typically, individuals nearing or older than 40 are at greater risk for conception difficulties than younger women. When a breast cancer diagnosis is factored into the equation, the chance for such challenges could rise significantly.
- Disease Progression – Progression of the illness also plays a critical role in determining future fertility levels. If a woman is diagnosed in the early stages, treatment will usually not need to be aggressive and may not involve efforts that could potentially impede a woman’s ability to conceive. However, if the disease is diagnosed at a later stage that requires more significant medical intervention, fertility problems might be encountered.
Breast Cancer Treatment Options and Fertility Issues
In many instances, the specific type of therapeutic protocol being employed is the largest determining factor. In cases of small tumors that can be entirely removed through surgical procedures and require no post-operative treatment, the fertility levels of the subjects in question should not be altered.
However, should these individuals need to undergo more aggressive forms of treatment such as chemotherapy or hormone therapy, potentially adverse reproductive consequences could ensue. The systemic concentration of certain chemotherapy drugs or chemically-induced hormonal imbalances could either precipitate damage to the ovaries or render them ineffective, which is detrimental to fertility as the ovaries are vital to the egg production needed for the fertilization process.
Options for Women With Breast Cancer
Women diagnosed at an advanced stage or those with other infertility risk factors might wish to consider fertility-preserving efforts.
Specific methods include the following:
- Embryo Freezing – For this method, embryos, which are fertilized eggs produced by a woman, are preserved inside a laboratory.
- Egg Freezing – Though similar to embryo freezing, this process involves the preservation of unfertilized eggs.
- Medications – Scientific researchers have found that the administration of the breast-cancer-fighting drug Tamoxifen has proven beneficial in stimulating the ovaries of breast cancer patients undergoing in-vitro fertilization (IVF).
- Participation in Fertoprotective Treatment Protocols – In appropriate instances, women might benefit from cancer treatments classified as fertoprotective, meaning they are designed to protect the health and integrity of reproductive organs as much as possible.
- Adoption – If the illness or associated treatments prove detrimental to an affected woman’s reproductive system, they could consider the possibility of adoption as an alternative.
Despite the possibility of preserving fertility during and after a breast cancer diagnosis, afflicted women are strongly cautioned to discuss a potential pregnancy journey with their physicians.
There are many questions women should ask prior to beginning the process:
- General Health – Pregnancy can be an arduous and sometimes challenging process for women of perfect health. In certain instances, the body of a cancer patient or survivor might not be able to withstand the rigors of the journey.
- The Safest Fertility-Boosting Step – Fertility-enhancing efforts could come with their own set of risks. A patient and her doctor should weigh the pros and cons of all such efforts and carefully decide which one suits her health and goals best.
- Affordability – Some fertility efforts, such as IVF and embryo freezing, can prove quite costly. Prior to committing to any specific endeavor, women should investigate the specific expenses and determine if their health insurance provider covers them.