By: Alice Rich
“The greatest impact that cancer has had on my life has been the impact on my fertility. I developed coping mechanisms to deal with treatments and physical scars, but had no coping mechanism for the prospect of infertility.”
Last month medical specialists Dr Sheridan Wilson and Dr Guy Gudex joined breast cancer survivor, Caroline Eric, on a panel to discuss the impact of breast cancer treatment on fertility in a free webinar run by Breast Cancer Foundation NZ.
1. Breast cancer treatment can impact on your fertility.
Chemotherapy and hormonal therapy, like Tamoxifen with ovarian suppression, can make it difficult to conceive once you’ve finished treatment. This means that if you haven’t completed your family prior to being diagnosed with breast cancer, it’s really important to ask your oncologist about what you can do to help future-proof your fertility.
2. You’ll have to delay beginning your chemotherapy until after your fertility preservation is complete.
This means that pre-treatment fertility preservation is quick, so it’s important to find a fertility specialist who you’re completely comfortable with. Remember that you can always change specialists if you don’t feel you’re getting enough support.
3. Fertility preservation isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach.
If you do decide to take steps to preserve your fertility, there’s a range of options to consider including putting your ovaries to sleep during chemotherapy or freezing eggs, embryos or ovarian tissue to use later with in-vitro fertilisation (IVF; when eggs are fertilised in a laboratory).
4. Fertility preservation can be a lengthy and expensive process but you may be able to receive public funding.
Eligibility criteria includes being under the age of 40 at referral, having no biological children and a BMI (body mass index) of less than 32.
5. Getting pregnant after breast cancer is safe but there’s no ‘best time’ to do it.
While many oncologists will advise waiting two years after breast cancer treatment has ended before trying to get pregnant, there is no way to test this, because it would be unethical to ask some women to get pregnant and some to not. Instead, evidence has to be taken from case studies and breast cancer registers.
6. Breastfeeding during treatment is not advised but breastfeeding after treatment is safe, and you might even be able to breastfeed from your treated breast.
Find out more about fertility preservation.
Source: Breast Cancer Foundation NZ