Some breast cancer treatments, including chemotherapy and hormonal therapy, can cause temporary or permanent infertility. A study found that doctors don't give patients enough information about fertility problems that may happen because of cancer treatments. Most doctors also didn't refer cancer patients to fertility specialists for counseling before treatment started. The results were presented at the 2009 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting.
More than 600 oncologists were asked about their knowledge of treatment-related infertility, as well as what they actually do about infertility issues when caring for patients:
- 36% weren't familiar with 2006 ASCO guidelines on infertility counseling and management for cancer patients
- 70% said they discussed treatment-related infertility issues with patients, but the discussions were sometimes short and didn't provide enough information
- Fewer than 25% gave patients printed brochures or fact sheets about treatment-related infertility risks and how fertility might be preserved
- Fewer than 25% referred patients to a fertility specialist
If you're a premenopausal woman diagnosed with breast cancer, the ability to have children after breast cancer treatment may be important to you. Still, it's very likely that a breast cancer diagnosis and the need to start treatment as soon as possible may push thoughts about future fertility (and many other things) to the back of your mind.
But while you and your doctor are planning your treatment is the best time to figure out how specific treatments might affect your fertility and learn about steps you can take to improve your chances of having a child in the future. For example, eggs from your ovaries can be extracted and stored until your treatment is completed. Other techniques include removing and storing a portion of ovarian tissue that is then put back in the body after treatment.
If you're about to start breast cancer treatment and being able to have a child in the future is important to you, be sure to tell your doctor. Ask your doctor how any treatments being considered could affect your future fertility. If the treatments that are best for you could cause fertility problems, ask your doctor about steps you can take to preserve your fertility. You also may want to ask for a referral to an infertility specialist.
You can learn more about breast cancer treatment and infertility issues in the Breastcancer.org Fertility, Pregnancy, Adoption section.