Breast cancer does play a role in fertility; however, each woman's situation is unique. It's important to meet with your physician to discuss your options. You may also consider seeing a fertility specialist who has more experience working with breast cancer patients.
If you've recently been diagnosed with breast cancer and want to have children, make sure to discuss your fertility issues. Many women treat breast cancer successfully and go on to have a healthy pregnancy. Here are three questions to ask your doctor before you start breast cancer treatment.
- How serious is the diagnosis?
- How safe is it for me to become pregnant?
- What is the prognosis?
If your doctor feels that pregnancy would be safe for you, ask your doctor and a fertility expert about options for preserving your fertility before you start breast cancer treatment. You may be able to freeze embryos, freeze and store eggs or stimulate your ovaries.
Finally, ask your doctor whether or not you can postpone breast cancer treatment to allow time for ovarian stimulation and in vitro fertilization. Alternatively, your doctor may also recommend taking drugs to suppress ovarian function during chemotherapy.
Some treatments for breast cancer can cause temporary infertility, making it harder for you to get conceive after treatment ends or cause permanent infertility. If you've undergone chemotherapy, your fertility will depend on your age and the type and doses of chemotherapy medicines you experienced. Younger women who are treated for cancer have the best chance of becoming pregnant after chemotherapy. Women who are 40 or older when they get chemotherapy are more likely to be in menopause after chemotherapy. Luckily, early menopause brought on by chemotherapy may be temporary. Though, it may take a few months or as long as a year for your periods to return.
Radiation treatment for breast cancer has no effect on fertility. However, if you're also having chemotherapy and definitely want to get pregnant in the future, you may want to start fertility treatments before you start radiation. The eggs that are beginning to mature for ovulation may be affected by tiny amounts of radiation that scatter from the breast. Therefore, the eggs for fertility treatments should be collected before radiation treatment starts.
Pregnancy after treatment
If you can't become pregnant after breast cancer treatment, you can still become a mother via fertility treatments, surrogacy or adoption.
As a general recommendation, many doctors advise pre-menopausal women with early-stage breast cancer to wait about two years after diagnosis and treatment to get pregnant. This recommendation was made because early-stage breast cancer that is going to come back usually does in the first two years after diagnosis and treatment.
However, there are no specific rules regarding pregnancy for women after treatment. Your doctor can work with you to develop a plan that is appropriate for your specific health profile.
If you've delivered a healthy baby after breast cancer treatment, you may be wondering if it's safe to breastfeed your baby. As long as you are not receiving chemotherapy or hormonal therapy, it is safe. If one breast was treated with lumpectomy followed by radiation, it probably won't produce much milk. However, the breast that didn't receive radiation can usually make enough milk to feed your baby. If you are unable to breastfeed or choose not to, rest assured that you can still form a close bond with your child during feeding time.
There are many steps you can take to protect your health and your fertility, so it's important to stay educated. There is growing research in this area for both patients and doctors.
Guest blogger Jennifer Vishnevsky is a writer for AboutPlasticSurgery and a supporter of the Surgeons Give Support program in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month.