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In what ways breast cancer affects fertility levels?

October is known as breast cancer awareness month. The message that has to be spread throughout the month is simple yet strong: information and prevention. So, let’s find out in what ways breast cancer affect fertility levels and if fertility levels may or may not cause this type of cancer.

Breast cancer is the world’s most prevalent cancer. In 2020 there were 2.3 million women diagnosed with it and 685 000 deaths globally, according to WHO.

This type of cancer can affect any woman irrespective of color, nationality, weight, and age. Factors such as increasing age, obesity, extensive use of alcohol and smoking, family history of breast cancer, reproductive history, and hormone therapies can increase the risk of it.

a pink ribbon for breast cancer awareness

Fertility and Breast cancer

But what about fertility and breast cancer? Can women with breast cancer have children after their treatments? How safe is it and can they get pregnant naturally or do they need IVF treatments and other alternatives? IVF treatments can later cause breast cancer too? So many questions, but thankfully science is on our side.

Let’s state the facts. 

Some treatments such as chemotherapy can affect a woman’s fertility. And that is why you have to think in advance of your wants and needs. If you want to have kids, you have to explore your options before your cancer treatment. Yes, it may seem utopic to think of anything else while you are dealing with such an issue, but that is something you have to do if you want to bring another human to life. Talk with your therapist and express your fears and plans for the future and together explore what you can do. There are ways to preserve your fertility, such as IVF and egg freezing. Choose wisely yours, always with full responsibility and doctor’s alignment. 

Chemotherapy and especially the drugs used in this procedure can cause infertility. The likelihood of infertility depends on the drugs, the dosage, the duration of the treatment, and your fertility before the treatment. Chemotherapy can cause your period to stop and no one can predict if and when it will return, but research has shown that if a woman has her treatment before the age of 35 it is more likely for the period to return. But even if your period returns after treatment, menopause is likely to happen sooner than it would have done if you had not had chemotherapy. And this means that you have a smaller chance to get pregnant.

What happens if I am taking hormone treatment someone may ask. Hormone treatment is usually taken for five years or longer. While you are in the process, you’ll be advised not to get pregnant as it may harm a developing baby. Even if your periods stop while you’re taking the therapy you could still get pregnant.

Due to the length of time, this is taking for, its side effects may hide the signs of natural menopause, and this might confuse you on if and when you can get pregnant. 

And while you decided to proceed in fertility preservation, this may affect the duration of your cancer treatment as certain types of chemotherapies must be delayed for weeks or even months.

According to Jama Oncology, only 9 out of 425 women in a study who underwent fertility preservation—about 2%—later used their banked embryos, eggs, or ovarian tissue. And why is that? Because of all the exhaustion and side effects that occurred during cancer treatment. It is not yet scientifically concluded that women who undergo fertility preservation have more chances of getting pregnant than women who don’t but let’s see the bigger picture here: the more options (IVF, egg freezing, sperm donor, etc.) you have, the more benefit you will most likely be. 

Common questions about pregnancy after breast cancer

  • Can you breastfeed after cancer treatment? If you had breast surgery and/or radiation, you might have problems breastfeeding from the affected breast. This might include reduced milk production in that breast as well as structural changes that can make breastfeeding painful, or make it harder for the baby to latch onto the breast. Also, if you are on a specific medication for the treatment, you should consult with your doctor because there are drugs that enter the milk and can potentially harm the baby.
  • Could pregnancy or breastfeeding make the cancer come back? Studies have shown that if the treatment is successful, pregnancy can not make the cancer come back. For those who are able to breastfeed after treatment there are no chances of breast cancer recurrence. Breastfeeding (especially for a year or more) is linked to a lower risk of developing breast cancer, although there is less research about whether it can help lower the risk of breast cancer coming back after treatment.

Can IVF treatment cause breast cancer?

Studies have shown that women who undertook IVF treatment had the same risk of breast cancer as those who didn’t and that women who did 7 or more circles of IVF were at lower risk of developing breast cancer than those who completed one or two circles. Another study has shown that older women that had IVF treatment were more exposed to breast cancer, especially those over 40 years old. 

Dr. Melanie Davies performed a study with over 660.000 women in Denmark and found that the risk ratio of breast cancer after IVF treatment in older women is not something to be scared of. Specifically, she stated: ‘Their risk ratio was not that dramatic. It was 1.14 which is statistically significant, but if you look at absolute numbers it’s not that massive because breast cancer is not a common disease’. ‘It’s going to be small numbers of women.’

These are all facts you have to be aware of before you start an IVF treatment and a breast cancer treatment. Discussing the risks and possibilities might be stressful but the more informed you are, the better for you and your family. Bringing a baby into this world is something that must not be treated lightly, and something that affects you physically and emotionally. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and express your concerns to your doctors, they are there to help you.

Stay informed, explore your options and be prepared. MEDIPASS will be by your side through your fertility journey, always listening to your needs.

Book a free call with our customer success manager to further guide you along the process and explain how MEDIPASS can help.

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In what ways breast cancer affects fertility levels?