Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Breast Cancer Health Center

Font Size
A
A
A

How Breast Cancer Affects Fertility

What there is to know about having a baby when you have breast cancer.

Preserving Fertility

Despite the fertility risks associated with breast cancer treatment (chemotherapy in particular), methods to preserve fertility prior to treatment offer hope to many patients.

To date, freezing embryos (fertilized eggs) created by in vitro fertilization (IVF) is the most widely used and effective method of preserving fertility. But there are potential downsides. IVF takes three to four weeks, a delay in cancer treatment that, depending on the stage and type of cancer, patients may or may not be able to afford. Sperm -- either from a partner or donor -- must be made available immediately to fertilize the eggs. And IVF is expensive -- anywhere from $10,000 to $14,000 per cycle.

Other methods of fertility preservation, albeit experimental, show promise. Egg freezing, which applies the same concept as embryo freezing, has proven less effective -- most likely because eggs are smaller, and less hardy, than embryos. There's also ovarian suppression during treatment, which "protects ovaries to some degree from chemical onslaught of chemotherapy," Barbierri tells WebMD. Freezing entire strips of ovarian tissue is a third technique under investigation; it involves surgically removing, storing, and later replacing the tissue in another part of the body.

Tamoxifen, a drug traditionally used to prevent breast cancer reoccurrence, was recently found to stimulate ovaries in breast cancer survivors during an IVF cycle, enhancing both egg and embryo production. This extra boost can combat infertility barriers such as age and the diminishing ovarian reserves, which occurs naturally with aging, notes Oktay.

Although males rarely develop breast cancer, it does happen. For male breast cancer patients who must undergo chemotherapy and want to preserve their fertility, freezing sperm is an effective option. "Since there are millions of sperm, even if you kill half in the freezing process, you still have a lot left," Barbierri explains.

Researchers' focus on fine-tuning methods of fertility preservation fuel optimism about its increasing viability. "A decade ago, there was practically no emphasis on fertility preservation. Today, there are several methods and thus a much greater potential," Oktay tells WebMD.

Conception Concerns: Relapse, Harm to Offspring

For survivors who remain fertile, questions about conception remain. Relapse is one of them.

"A common clinical recommendation is that a survivor wait two years before attempting to become pregnant, since most serious relapses will occur within the first two years after treatment," Barbierri tells WebMD. "If you wait two years, there's no strong evidence that pregnancy will influence the course of disease."

Survivors also worry that their offspring will be at risk for cancer. According to experts, that risk is small. "Only 5% of breast cancers are truly inherited via a specific genetic mutation," Domcheck tells WebMD. "If you have an inherited genetic mutation, you have a 50-50 chance of passing it on to your children." To date, researchers have identified a few genetic mutations that contribute to breast cancer; these include BCRA-1 and BCRA-2.

Today on WebMD

Breast Cancer Health Check
HEALTH CHECK
breast cancer overview slideshow
SLIDESHOW
 
cancer fighting foods
SLIDESHOW
senior woman
Article
 
Breast Cancer Treatments Improving
VIDEO
Resolved To Quit Smoking
SLIDESHOW
 
Woman getting mammogram
Article
Screening Tests for Women
SLIDESHOW
 
ovarian cancer overview slideshow
SLIDESHOW
serious woman
Article
 
what is your cancer risk
HEALTH CHECK
10 Ways to Revitalize Slideshow
SLIDESHOW