As common as breast cancer is, many women aren’t well-informed about how treating it may affect their lives.
Nearly 12 percent of women will develop invasive breast cancer at some point in her lifetime. And while cancer treatments have come a long way in helping women beat their symptoms and reclaim their quality of life, women need to be aware of how their cancer therapies may affect their future fertility and reproductive health.
Chemotherapy and radiation, two common cancer therapies, can have long-lasting effects on a woman’s ability to have children. However, research is showing that most women aren’t getting the info they need to make informed decisions before undergoing these treatments.
A study conducted in Cancer, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society, found that lack of information was a common problem for women considering cancer treatment. The study surveyed 346 women who had undergone cancer treatments an average of five years earlier. Of the women surveyed, the data showed that 43 to 62 percent reported that they didn’t get the information they needed, even though fertility after-the-fact was one of respondents’ biggest concerns. This led to plenty of confusion during the decision-making process for their future fertility planning.
Catherine Benedict, PhD and lead author of the above study, spoke to the need for fertility information before treatment: “The potential loss of fertility has been described in the literature as being almost as painful, if not more so, than the cancer diagnosis itself.” And with nearly a third (106 of 346) of women surveyed being told that they wouldn’t be able to become pregnant after their treatment, the need for better information is dire indeed.
Treatment-induced infertility can be tough to handle. And though not all women suffer infertility from their cancer treatments, the possibility is enough to give many women pause.
Fertility preservation by freezing eggs or embryos pre-treatment is a possible solution for some women, but the research of Dr. Benedict’s team showed that most women don’t usually consider fertility preservation before treatment due to the lack of information of their options.
Of the above women surveyed, only 21 had opted for pre-treatment egg/embryo freezing. This can be an ideal solution for those diagnosed with cancer, however, pre-treatment egg freezing isn’t always an option due to medical urgency or excessive cost. In these cases, post-treatment fertility preservation can be effective for women whose fertility wasn’t affected by their treatments. However, these issues are sensitive and require plenty of time and planning ahead of time.
To make sure women receive the information they need, the National Infertility Association recommends that women who receive a positive cancer diagnosis meet with a fertility specialist. Doing so will ensure that women are informed about their treatment options and the possible drawbacks of chemo and radiation on all aspects of their health.
Though breast cancer is often manageable, women must take care and make informed decisions about the future of their health and whether or not certain cancer therapies are right for them.