As reported in an article in USA Today, for some young women, one of the most crushing side effects of breast cancer treatment is early menopause, which ends their chances of becoming pregnant.
A new study shows that these women have a better chance of preserving their future fertility if they temporarily turn off their ovaries during chemotherapy. The ovary glands produce estrogen and typically release one egg a month during women’s fertile years. In addition to the loss of fertility even before signs of menopause, early menopause can cause a number of medical complications, including an increased risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures.
The procedure involves injections of an existing hormone-suppressing drug called goserelin, which lowers estrogen levels, preventing women from getting regular menstrual cycles, according to the study of 218 women presented Friday at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in Chicago. Both groups of women in the study, who were ages 18 to 49, received the same chemo regimen.
Women who took the drug were 64% less likely to have their ovaries fail, which occurs when women miss their periods for six months or more. About 22% of women who got standard chemo experienced ovarian failure, compared with 8% of those who also took goserelin.
Women who received goserelin were twice as likely to have become pregnant, according to the study, funded by the National Institutes of Health. About 21% of women who took goserelin became pregnant and 15% delivered a baby. In comparison, 11% of those who did not take goserelin became pregnant and 7% of them had a baby. About the same number of women in each group had tried to conceive.
This study predated the development of effective egg freezing techniques which is more effective than suppressing the ovaries with goserelin.
For more information on egg freezing please see our Egg Freezing page.