When a woman receives an official breast cancer diagnosis, the unimaginable becomes wrenchingly imaginable. And, if you are a woman who is planning to have children, that same diagnosis means you must protect two things at the same time: your health and your fertility.
Fortunately, there are a range of options to preserve fertility for any woman with a cancer diagnosis, but it requires swift action and the support from fertility specialists.
If you or someone you love has recently received a breast cancer diagnosis, seek a consultation with a fertility specialist as soon as you can. While your oncologist is going to do all s/he can to educate and inform you about your particular type of breast cancer, the ideal treatment(s), and recommended long-term care plans, her/his focus won’t be on your fertility options.
In fact, multiple studies show that while some doctors provide information about breast cancer and how it affects fertility, most do not. You or your partner will need to be your best advocate.
5 Things to Know About Breast Cancer and Fertility
There are five things to know about breast cancer and fertility that will help you move forward in a way that simultaneously addresses cancer treatment and a path towards building the family you’re looking forward to in the future.
1) Freezing your eggs keep parenting dreams intact
Egg freezing is the #1 way to preserve your chances of getting pregnant when the cancer treatments are finished and you’re on your way back to health. By retrieving eggs prior to taking any medications or participating in radiation/chemotherapy, or some other variation of cancer treatment, we can schedule an egg retrieval within about six weeks or less to preserve your eggs in their healthiest state.
Then, when you’re ready, you’ll have the opportunity to thaw the eggs, fertilize them, and participate in IVF. Even if your uterus or other organs are compromised, making it challenging to carry a baby, we can put you in contact with amazing gestational carriers who will carry your baby for you.
Read, 10 Fast Facts About Egg Freezing to learn more about that process.
2) Quick fertility preservation action shouldn’t compromise your cancer prognosis
Unless you have an extremely late-stage diagnosis where time is of the immediate essence, you’ll have time to put a confident fertility plan in place without sacrificing your wellbeing. In most cases, your first appointment for any treatment that would compromise fertility (chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, medications, etc.) won’t start for several weeks or even a couple of months.
This lapse in time won’t compromise your health because it gives you and your oncology team time to create the ideal treatment plan for you, while opening the window for you to work with a fertility specialist to move forward with a successful fertility plan.
If you are someone with a more aggressive diagnosis, let your oncologist know ASAP that you want to have children. It may shift the types of treatments s/he offers. It is still worth speaking to a fertility specialist to learn more about potential options.
3. Chemotherapy can cause permanent damage to the reproductive system
Chemotherapy can compromise the quality of your eggs. This can make it difficult for you to conceive or carry a healthy, full-term baby. Poor-quality eggs also put you at higher risk for having a child with chromosomal or genetic defects.
There is also a chance that the chemotherapy protocol could harm or compromise organs in the reproductive tract. If this happens to you, it can make it more challenging for you to experience a full-term, viable pregnancy.
4. Each breast cancer treatment has fertility pros/cons
Again, your treatment plan is determined by the type of breast cancer you have. Each treatment option has its own pros/cons in terms of its ability to treat your cancer, the physical side effects, and – of course – its impact on fertility.
For example hormone therapies are often used to treat estrogen-fed cancers. While some women ovulate again when the hormone therapy is finished, (or when they take a break to address fertility issues); others never regain their regular menstrual cycle and ovulation, which makes it difficult or impossible for them to conceive. Chemotherapy and radiation pose risks to cells throughout the body, and the list goes on.
Visit breastcancer.org’s page about Treatments That Affect Fertility to learn more specifically about each treatment category and potential effects. And, of course, have a detailed conversation with your oncologist and/or fertility team to learn more.
5. You are not alone
Your experience may feel incredibly isolating. However, you are not alone. Women who’ve walked the same path as you can be the best sources of information, wisdom, experience and support. Your fertility specialist can connect you with former patients who’ve walked your path, and you can also seek fertility preservation and cancer support in online cancer support groups as well as infertility support groups.
Fertility Solutions has supported hundreds of patients through the cancer and fertility preservation journey. Contact us to learn more about your options and work with a team who meets you where you are at, and who will advocate for you every step of the way.