Breast Cancer Patients Prevent Infertility With New Treatment

2011-07-20 18:24

Young women undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer may be able to prevent infertility by temporarily suppressing their ovarian function with a new drug treatment, says study.

Approximately 6% of women diagnosed with breast cancer are under 40 years of age and treatment significantly compromises their ability to have children in the future. In approximately 60% of cases chemotherapy regimens and hormonal treatments can cause a woman’s ovaries to go into premature menopause, which defined by the World Health Organization as no menstrual periods for 12 months.

According to the authors of the study, this cessation of regular menstrual cycles greatly increases the risk for infertility. “Although very young women can resume menstruating (and presumably ovarian function) after more than 1 year of chemotherapy-induced [menstruation cessation], most who do not resume menstruating in the first year after the end of chemotherapy are likely to lose their ovarian function completely and permanently,” they wrote.

Treatment for this type of infertility is complex and costly, so women often resort to using donated eggs or adopting a child.

The authors of the study published in the Journal for the American Medical Association (JAMA), explained in their report that the prospects of premature menopause and infertility are the most distressing aspects of the breast cancer experience as reported by young cancer survivors. In fact, nearly 1 in 3 women choose treatment options based on reducing these risks.

Ovarian Suppression Reduces Premature Menopause by 17%

In search of way to prevent this chemo-related infertility, Italian researchers began experimenting with hormone treatment called triptorelin which suppresses ovarian function. In the Phase 3 part of their study they assigned 281 pre-menopausal women with stage I-III breast cancer to receive either a placebo or the triptorelin therapy.

According to the results of the study after one year post-chemotherapy the triptorelin group had a 17% decreased risk for developing premature menopause, despite the patient's age or type of chemotherapy used.

These results are “"intriguing and represent an important and encouraging addition to the study of ovarian preservation for women in this difficult situation," wrote Dr. Hope S. Rugo and Dr. Mitchell P. Rosen in an accompanying commentary on the study.


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