Breast cancer patients have options for future fertility

Published: Oct. 25, 2016 at 3:20 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 25, 2016 at 4:24 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - This year alone, more than 230,000 women in the United States will be diagnosed with a type of invasive breast cancer. In the midst of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, many women diagnosed with breast cancer, especially younger women, are concerned about their ability to have children after treatment.

According to Doctor John Schnorr, a reproductive specialist, breast cancer affects about one in nine women. But, he says, if you look at the long-term life expectancy, the mortality rate is higher with hip fractures than it is with breast cancer.

The challenge for doctors is the permanent fertility issues which are side effects for women who get chemotherapy and radiation therapy to treat breast cancer.

With the increased success rates of survival, doctors are working to improve the long-term fertility results. One of those is the ability to take out eggs and freeze them prior to the administration of chemotherapy.
"Once they're then done with chemotherapy and they're a survivor, they can then achieve the reproductive goals by using frozen eggs. Studies now show that using frozen eggs does not increase the risk of miscarriage, birth defects or other problems and gives them the same pregnancy rate as if they were conceiving on their own prior to the chemotherapy," says Dr. Schnorr.

He says there is long-term data that shows women who choose to freeze their eggs with the diagnosis of breast cancer have the same survival rates and cure rates as women who did not freeze their eggs. So the process does not slow down or hurt chances of survival.
One woman who decided to take that route is Laurie Shaw from Hopkins. She was diagnosed with two types of breast cancer in July. Shaw is currently going through her first round of chemotherapy, she'll have surgery in January and then she'll start her next round of treatment.

But because the chemicals can have a permanent effect on reproduction—she had to decide what she wanted to do when it came to her future children. Shaw says she chose to freeze her eggs because she wanted the option down the road.
"You're able to then utilize them whenever you are able to because we don't know how long the chemo will last. Doctors are trying to help so we have to see exactly what my body allows me to do. From that point I was like, 'well I'll definitely want to do that because I do want to have children at one point,'" says Shaw.
Dr. Schnorr says, in his experience, ten percent of women or fewer discuss with their doctor the impact treatment could have on reproduction. And of those who do, about 50 percent choose to freeze their eggs. Shaw says it was so important to her that her doctor laid all of her options in front of her with what she was able to do down the road. And she encourages anyone going through this battle to ask questions.

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