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Preserving fertility through breast cancer treatment

Posted by Tri Vu, M.D. on Nov 14, 2018 9:59:23 AM

Having a doctor tell you that you have breast cancer can be devastating.  After the initial shock, it’s common for women to be concerned about their ability to have children after treatment. Throughout treatment, your primary focus should be getting well and taking care of your body, but if you’re concern ed about fertility afterward, talk to your oncologist because there are ways to increase your chances of preserving fertility during breast cancer treatment. 

What Are the Complications?

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Breast cancer (and the treatment process) can come with complications, one of which may be infertility. Some treatments can cause temporary infertility, which can make it difficult for you to become pregnant following treatment. There are other treatments that can cause permanent and irreversible infertility. Chemotherapy can also be responsible for fertility issues, as the treatment can potentially damage some of the eggs within the ovaries or cause irregular periods. Because of these issues, it’s important that your doctor knows what your plans for pregnancy are before you start your treatment unless you want to wait and see if you can still have children after completing treatment. 

Protecting Your Ovaries During Chemotherapy

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One way doctors can potentially help preserve fertility through breast cancer treatment is to take preventive steps to protect your ovaries during treatment. This can be accomplished with a procedure called ovarian suppression. During your chemotherapy, if ovarian suppression is determined to be a good fit for your own personal health, you will receive regular monthly injections of medications that temporarily “shut down” the ovaries. Periods should restart between three to six months after treatment has stopped. 

There are some drawbacks to this option. Some research suggests that ovarian suppression can render chemotherapy less effective. There is also the risk of your fertility not returning after treatment, so talk with your doctor to make sure this is the right option for you and make sure you know all the potential risks associated with this method. 

Fertility Preservation

While no doctor can guarantee that any fertility treatment can be 100 percent effective, there are other preservation methods that seem to be less risky with better results. 

  • In vitro fertilization – this method involves taking sperm from your partner, fertilizing eggs from you and freezing embryos once they’re created. These embryos can be frozen for at least 10 years and can then be implanted in your uterus when your breast cancer treatment is over and your doctor has given you the all clear.
  • Freezing eggs – Some women who don’t currently have a partner and don’t want to utilize donor sperm to create embryos choose to freeze their eggs to be implanted with a future partner’s sperm. Success rates for this method have improved drastically over time, but It still isn’t as effective as freezing embryos. 

Whatever your plans are, it’s important to have open, honest communication with your partner and your doctor. There are options, and chances are, one will be an effective solution for you.


Dr. Vu is a board-certified hematologist/oncologist at the Kelsey-Seybold Cancer Center at the Main Campus and Spring Medical and Diagnostic Center.


Topics: preserving fertility with breast cancer, protecting ovaries during chemotherapy

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