If you or someone you know is facing breast cancer, you are not alone. According to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 266,120 women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year. While this number is staggering, there is hope. The advancements in cancer research and oncology have increased survival rates and helped prevent recurrences.
Fertility may not be the first thing that pops into the mind when someone is dealing with breast cancer but it is an important thing to consider. Young women who are dealing with breast cancer can find it challenging and there are likely questions regarding the safety of pregnancy as well as aspects such as breastfeeding especially if you have undergone a mastectomy. Depending on the type of treatment, there may be an increased risk of infertility as well.
This blog will delve into the various aspects that are critical when it comes to breast cancer and fertility in women. We will look at breast cancer and the various treatment methods as well as how we at RHWC can help with fertility treatment if you are or have been a breast cancer patient. Read on.
A Bit About Breast Cancer
Breast cancer is a type of cancer that forms in the cells of the breast. Breast cancer can occur in both men and women, but it is much more common in women. According to the American Cancer Society, about 1 in 8 women (12%) will develop breast cancer at some point during their lifetime.
There are several different types of breast cancer which are classified based on how the cells look under a microscope and where cancer originated. The most common type of breast cancer is ductal carcinoma, which starts in the milk ducts and accounts for about 80% of all breast cancers. Other less common types of breast cancer include lobular carcinoma, which starts in the milk-producing glands; inflammatory breast cancer, which causes the breast to swell and appear red; and Paget’s disease of the nipple, which affects the skin around the nipple
Most cases of breast cancer are diagnosed after a woman notices a lump or other change in her breast and goes to her doctor for a mammogram or other imaging test. Mammograms can often detect tumors that are too small to feel. If a mammogram or other imaging test suggests that there is a mass in the breast, your doctor may recommend a biopsy to confirm whether it is cancerous. A biopsy involves removing a sample of tissue from the breast so that it can be examined under a microscope.
There are several different treatment options for breast cancer, depending on the stage of cancer
Types of Breast Cancer and Treatments
There are two main types of breast cancer: invasive and non-invasive. Invasive breast cancer is the more serious type, as it can spread to other parts of the body. Non-invasive breast cancer is limited to breast tissue and is often treated with surgery and/or radiation therapy.
Breast cancer treatment often depends on the type of cancer, as well as the stage of the disease. Early-stage breast cancers (Stage I and II) are often treated with surgery, while late-stage cancers (Stages III and IV) may require more aggressive treatment, such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Some younger women with early-stage breast cancer may also elect to have radiation therapy after surgery to reduce the risk of cancer recurrence.
Some women with breast cancer may be eligible for fertility preservation treatments, which can help them maintain their reproductive potential after treatment. Treatment such as chemo and radiation can affect the ovaries and could lead to delayed infertility. There are also concerns depending on the type of breast cancer. Some cancers are classified as hormone receptor-positive breast cancer which means that they have estrogen receptors or progesterone receptors. These types of cancer cells are stimulated by estrogen or progesterone and cause cancers to grow. If your breast cancer diagnosis says hormone receptor-positive, there are concerns that hormonal surges during pregnancy can increase the risk of breast cancer recurrence.
Risk Factors for Breast Cancer
There are several risk factors for developing breast cancer, including:
- A family history of the disease
- Being overweight or obese
- Having dense breasts
- Alcohol Consumption
- Not getting enough exercise
- Taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
The Impact of Breast Cancer Treatment on Fertility
Breast cancer and its treatment can have a significant impact on fertility. The good news is that there are fertility treatments available that can help you achieve optimal results.
The most common type of breast cancer, ductal carcinoma, usually starts in the milk ducts and is the most likely to spread to other parts of the body. Treatment for this type of breast cancer often includes surgery, radiation therapy, and/or chemotherapy. While these treatments are effective at treating cancer, they can also damage the ovaries and reduce fertility.
Chemotherapy drugs can damage the ovaries and lead to premature menopause. Surgery to remove the ovaries (oophorectomy) is sometimes necessary to treat breast cancer. This procedure leads to immediate menopause and irreversible infertility.
A study presented at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium showed that breast cancer survivors are less likely to get pregnant than average women and have a higher risk of complications during pregnancy. The study was a meta-analysis of several studies and covered a vast population of people including breast cancer survivors and other women of reproductive age. However, the systematic review of the studies also showed that there is no increased risk of birth defects in children and no impact on their overall survival.
When you are preparing for your cancer treatment with your oncologist, if you are of childbearing age and have plans to have children later, it’s advised to consult your fertility specialist too. There are several fertility preservation options available for women who wish to have children after treatment for breast cancer. These options include embryo freezing, egg freezing, and ovarian tissue freezing. Your reproductive endocrinologist will work with you to determine which option is best for you based on your age, medical history, treatment plan, and desired family size.
If you can become pregnant after treatment for breast cancer, it is important to be aware that there is an increased risk of complications in pregnancy outcomes such as preterm labor and low birth weight babies. You should discuss this with your obstetrician before becoming pregnant. It is also advised that you wait for at least 2 years after cancer treatment before a subsequent pregnancy to ensure disease-free survival for you and that you get clearance from your oncologist.
How Can RHWC Help Breast Cancer Patients and Survivors
There are many different fertility treatments available at RHWC that can help you achieve optimal results.
The first step is of course a thorough analysis of your current fertility as well as looking at the treatment method you are following for your cancer care. This will help us determine possible issues that may arise related to temporary or permanent infertility if you are of gestational age.
We offer options for egg freezing and other fertility preservation methods to protect you before you start treatments in case the cancer treatment leads to infertility at a later stage.
Our fertility specialists may also recommend treatment plans that can improve the chances of conception including hormone therapy and other medications. This can help in regulating ovulation and increasing the chances of pregnancy. RHWC also supports you in assisted reproductive technology such as IUI and IVF.
In case you are unable to get pregnant despite the various treatment methods, there are other options such as gestational surrogacy where you use a frozen egg and sperm samples from your partner as well as a gestational carrier.
Breast Cancer is a very serious condition that affects millions of people worldwide. With early detection and proper treatment, the chances of completely overcoming the disease are fairly high. Fertility is a definite aspect of concern for people who undergo cancer treatment of any kind including breast cancer. Healthcare providers have advanced knowledge and expertise in dealing with fertility complications of all kinds and this can certainly help you if you are a breast cancer survivor looking to get pregnant.
At Reproductive Health and Wellness Center, we understand that every patient’s situation is unique. That’s why we offer a variety of fertility treatments to help our patients achieve their dream of having children. If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer and are interested in starting or expanding your family, we can help you navigate your treatment options and create a plan that is right for you. To learn more about how RHWC can help you achieve your fertility goals, contact us today.
At Reproductive Health and Wellness Center, we are experts at treating fertility issues. We provide the latest in cutting-edge embryo science by using the latest technologies, and we create innovative fertility plans tailored specifically to each individual. But we’re so much more.