New research indicates that chemotherapy has a bigger impact on female fertility than many reports reveal. The research was completed by the University of California at San Francisco. According to researchers, the new research results could give doctors and patients more appropriate and realistic information on the long-term effects of chemotherapy on fertility. This information can be used as part of chemotherapy education in terms of conception after treatment and fertility choices.

Right now, women who undergo chemotherapy are told that fertility may be affected by the treatment. Ideally, women would have eggs harvested before chemotherapy and cryogenically preserved for fertilization after the cancer is exhausted. However, in some cases, women choose not to harvest eggs in hopes of naturally conceiving later in life. In the current study, the majority of women questioned were told that the return of normal menstrual cycles meant they could likely conceive, but this may not be the case.

Just more than 1,000 women were given questionnaires regarding fertility information passed along before chemotherapy. Of the 1,000 women, about 600 were treated with chemotherapy alone. The women suffered one of five types of cancer – breast cancer, gastrointestinal cancer, leukemia, Hodgkin’s disease, and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

The results of the questionnaire revealed some problems with current chemotherapy education. Women who undergo chemotherapy are at increased risk for early menopause, cessation of menses and infertility. These risks increase dramatically with age. For instance, women received chemotherapy at 20 for Hodgkin’s disease suffered acute ovarian failure in 18-percent of the cases questioned. However, women aged 35 reported the same acute ovarian failure 56-percent of the time. On the flip side, the earlier women are diagnosed with cancer, the earlier they will enter menopause, according to the study.

Women have options to protect fertility and with more than 150,000 cases of cancer diagnosed each year, women need to know the facts about the effects of chemotherapy on short-term and long-term fertility so they can make an educated and informed the decision about fertility options.

Source: Joseph M. Letourneau, Erin E. Ebbel, Patricia P. Katz, Kutluk H. Oktay, Charles E. McCulloch, Wei Z. Ai, A. Jo Chien, Michelle E. Melisko, Marcelle I. Cedars, Mitchell P. Rosen. The University of California – San Francisco. 27 August, 2011.