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Fertility Counseling Before Cancer Treatment Boosts Quality of Life

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Some breast cancer treatments, including chemotherapy and hormonal therapy, can cause temporary or permanent infertility in women who haven't gone through menopause. Young women who want to have the option to get pregnant after cancer treatment have several options, including:

  • Harvesting, freezing, and storing eggs; one or more eggs can be fertilized and implanted after treatment is done.
  • Removing, freezing, and storing ovarian tissue; this tissue can be put back in the body after treatment is done.

A study found that young women who received fertility counseling before cancer treatment had fewer regrets and better overall quality of life after treatment compared to women who didn't get fertility counseling. This was true whether or not the women who got fertility counseling chose to see an infertility specialist or took fertility preservation steps before treatment. These results were presented at the 2010 annual meeting of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM).

Other research has found that many doctors don't give patients enough information about fertility problems that can be caused by cancer treatments. Research also has found that most doctors don't refer cancer patients to fertility specialists for counseling before treatment starts.

In this study, researchers mailed surveys to more than 2,500 women between the ages of 18 and 40 who had been treated for a variety of cancers. Some of the women were treated for breast cancer. More than 1,000 women completed the survey; most of them had treatments that could have made it difficult or impossible to become pregnant afterward. The survey responses showed:

  • less than 61% of the women talked to their doctors about treatment-caused fertility problems before treatment
  • only 5% of the women met with an infertility specialist before treatment
  • only 4% of the women took fertility preservation steps

Women who took fertility preservation steps before treatment reported more satisfaction with life after treatment compared to women who didn't take fertility preservation steps.

If you're premenopausal and have been diagnosed with breast cancer, having children after treatment may be important to you. Still, it's very likely that the need to start treatment as soon as possible may push thoughts about your future fertility (and many other things) to the back of your mind. The best time to figure out how certain treatments might affect your fertility and learn about steps you can take to preserve your fertility is before you start treatment.

If having a child in the future is important to you, be sure to talk to your doctor while you're planning your treatment. Ask how any treatments being considered might 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 Fertility, Pregnancy, Adoption section.

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