Child Bearing and Cancer: Protecting Fertility

There is a new way for women who have cancer to still have babies. Young women diagnosed with breast cancer are usually focused on surviving their illness, not their future fertility. Chemo can end their ability to have babies later on, but this breakthrough can change that.

There are a number of ways we can try to protect a woman’s ability to have babies, but many fail. This potential breakthrough could soon mean that women won’t have to choose between a cancer cure and a family.

When Jenny Shepard learned she had a gene mutation that put her at high risk for breast cancer, she had to make some life-changing choices. If she ended up needing treatment for breast cancer, it might end her chances of having a baby. So she had her children first, then had a double mastectomy and hysterectomy to reduce her risk of cancer.

“I knew this was something I needed to take care of and I’m thankful I did, because a year after I had it, my 27 year old sister got breast cancer,” said Jenny.

Because chemo can cause the ovaries to stop producing eggs, woman can freeze their eggs, ovarian tissue or embryos prior to treatment for use later in life. That technique however is far from full proof. Now researchers at the Cleveland Clinic have come up with breakthrough strategy, using a medication called Goserelin {go-zher-a-lin} that sort of puts a woman’s ovaries to sleep; hiding and protecting them from the chemotherapy.

The results: When compared to women who got chemo without the new drug, almost three times as many women protected their fertility during chemo, and almost twice as many actually got pregnant.

This means that many women who need breast cancer treatment won’t have to wait until after they have their kids as Jenny did.

The drug is given as a series of shots at the same time as chemotherapy. My advice, if you are diagnosed with any kind of cancer, male or female, talk to your doctor about fertility options. You need to plan ahead before you start your treatment.