October is Breast Cancer Awareness month and is a good time to talk a little bit about how breast cancer can impact your fertility. For American women, breast cancer is the most common form of cancer, next to skin cancer. According to breastcancer.org, in the U.S. this year alone, it is estimated that 266,120 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected as well as 63,960 new cases of non-invasive breast cancer. And it’s not just women. Estimations are around 2,550 for new cases of invasive breast cancer for men this year. These statistics are sobering, and this is why we stress the importance of breast cancer awareness. If you are of childbearing age it is recommended that you see your OB GYN for your annual physical exam, including having a breast exam.
There are some things you should know that can help you deal with a cancer diagnosis. As the prognosis for cancer patients improve over time, it’s important to consider what life after cancer will entail. If pregnancy is something you look forward to in the future, it’s important to consider your fertility options prior to starting treatment. If you already have been treated, there are still options available to help you achieve parenthood.
Depending on the location, type and stage of the cancer when you are diagnosed – along with your age – can determine the effect of the treatment on your fertility. For example, if you have surgery and radiation with no chemotherapy, the dosage and amount of radiation treatment you may undergo, especially low doses, may not have a harmful effect on fertility. Also, the effects are usually limited to the embryo early in the pregnancy and not the egg or sperm.
Some treatments used to fight breast cancer, such as chemotherapy, may result in temporary infertility, but for some, it can also cause permanent infertility. Still, while cancer treatments can impact your ability to conceive, not all of them do. When it comes to determining the type of treatment, if you have invasive breast cancer you will likely have systemic chemotherapy, but if you have a small tumor which is localized and not considered a threat of spreading, you won’t likely require chemotherapy.
With chemotherapy, younger women have a higher success rate of pregnancy after receiving this form of cancer treatment. Women over 40 undergoing chemo may find themselves in menopause after. But even younger women can end up with premature ovarian failure and early menopause. If you end up in early menopause because of chemotherapy, the effect might be temporary, and your periods can return anywhere from a few months to a year. Damage to the ovaries may be sustained during chemotherapy.
We recommend asking your oncologist about the affects your cancer treatment may have on your fertility and seeking a consultation with a fertility specialist prior to or as you are planning your cancer treatment regimen. Freezing eggs or embryos before beginning cancer treatment can help preserve your fertility by protecting and placing those family building plans on ice/on hold. This involves stimulating your ovaries to create mature, quality eggs, which are then retrieved, frozen and stored or fertilized and then frozen as embryos.
Remember, if you have been treated for breast cancer or any other type of cancer and are struggling to conceive, there are still a number of options that can help you reach your goal of becoming a mother. If you have recently been diagnosed with cancer, we recommend speaking with one of our board certified fertility specialists at Utah Fertility Center 801-785-5100. Our reproductive endocrinologists have the expertise to assist you with your quest for parenthood even if you have complex fertility issues.