Young women battling breast cancer have their whole lives ahead of them. That includes motherhood for some.
Chemotherapy is the standard treatment for early stage breast cancer. Ovarian failure, or the development of early menopause, is a common long-term side effect of chemotherapy. The ovaries no longer produce eggs that leads to conceiving a child.
A cancer diagnosis is a profound, life-changing occurrence. Fortunately, many women can be cured of their breast cancer when it’s caught early on.
“Survivorship issues have become increasingly important as we do a better job of treating the underlying cancer,” breast cancer oncologist Halle C.F. Moore, MD, says. “That cure also comes with some side effects like early menopause. That’s particularly important for young women and women interested in preserving fertility for the future.”
Pre-menopausal women with early-stage breast cancer are treated using chemotherapy with the intent to cure.
“People want to have a normal quality of life after treatment,” Dr. Moore says. Eliminating early-onset menopause is part of that.
Current options for preserving a woman’s fertility may include freezing eggs, ovarian tissue or embryos for use at a later time. Dr. Moore’s research provides a new option for women going through breast cancer treatment.
The study used a new intervention, a hormone-blocking drug called goserelin. The drug shuts down ovarian function during chemotherapy and protects the ovaries from chemotherapy toxicity.
Women who received the intervention were less likely to experience ovarian failure two years following the start of chemotherapy, increasing the likelihood of pregnancy.
Half of the study participants received standard chemotherapy. The other half received a shot of goserelin once a month beginning a week before chemotherapy.
The results found an added benefit, too.
“The women who received the intervention had fewer recurrences of the breast cancer and appeared to do better in terms of overall survival,” Dr. Moore says.
Doctors use goserelin for other gynecologic conditions to shut down ovarian function as well as testicular function for advanced breast and prostate cancers.
Dr. Moore encourages young women diagnosed with breast cancer to talk to their oncologist or a fertility specialist about how to preserve fertility if they wish to start a family in the future.