– Women in reproductive years should explore fertility options prior to commencing chemotherapy for breast cancer, stresses Dr Carol Coughlan
– The use of chemotherapy drugs can result in premature ovarian failure leading to infertility
– Patients should also seek specialist opinion regarding safety of pregnancy post treatment
Women undergoing breast cancer chemotherapy treatment should first discuss their fertility preservation options with their doctor since the treatment can compromise ovarian reserve in the patient, said Dr Carol Coughlan, Specialist in Reproductive Medicine and Surgery at Bourn Hall Fertility Centre, Dubai.Depending on the drug used, dosage and the age of the patient, women can develop premature ovarian failure resulting in infertility, making it imperative for them to take some measure to preserve fertility, egg freezing being one of them, and the only option offered in the UAE. The process is particularly useful for women who are not married, or do not have a partner, and wish to preserve their fertility prior to commencing chemotherapy.
“In order to increase pregnancy chances later, doctors suggest preserving multiple mature eggs and a woman can achieve this through ovarian stimulation,” explained Dr Carol Coughlan, “For patients wishing to cryopreserve eggs due to a cancer diagnosis, fertility specialists will liaise with the patient’s oncologist to ensure that in each case it is an appropriate treatment option.”
She added: “It is typically recommended to commence ovarian stimulation with a view to freezing eggs prior to starting chemotherapy. However, in theory, conventional ovarian stimulation – which can result in increased oestrogen levels – can be expected to be detrimental to breast tumours, particularly if the breast cancer is estrogenic sensitive. Therefore, doctors suggest the use of medications which reduce levels of oestrogen during stimulation (aromatase inhibitors) as safer protocols for ovarian stimulation of breast cancer patients.”
While discussing the safety of pregnancy post breast cancer treatment, Dr Coughlan suggests seeking the opinion of a fertility specialist. Generally doctors advise women to wait at least two years after completion of all their treatment before trying to get pregnant; however, the advice is not based on data from clinical trials and every case is assessed individually. Since a lot depends on the recovery time, women should consult their oncologist, to ensure that an acceptable period of time has passed in which she is not likely to have a recurrence.
Bourn Hall Fertility Centre, the Dubai arm of Bourn Hall, UK, is the only stand-alone fertility centre in the Middle East to receive the Gold Seal of Approval from JCI International.It specialises in providing solutions related to fertilityand is a focal point for a number of couples seeking treatment.The Centre has also been instrumental is raising awareness regarding fertility issues among the UAE population.