Egg freezing may not delay chemo for breast cancer patients

A new technique could make egg freezing before treatment a quicker process for cancer patients

egg freezing before chemo

Women diagnosed with breast cancer who want to freeze their eggs and embryos before tumour treatment leads to infertility can do this without delaying the start of chemotherapy, a US study suggests.

Chemotherapy can cause infertility by damaging the ovaries and by triggering an early menopause in women of childbearing age.

Researchers focused on 89 women newly diagnosed with breast cancer who received counseling at a fertility clinic about a relatively new technique known as random-start ovarian stimulation.

This process doesn’t wait for a woman’s natural menstrual cycle to stimulate the ovaries to release eggs and can be done in about two weeks, compared with four to six weeks with older ovarian stimulation techniques timed to coincide with menstruation.

Overall, 67 of the women proceeded with random-start ovarian stimulation before beginning cancer treatment, reported Reuters.

With fertility treatment, women started chemotherapy an average of 38 days after their breast cancer diagnosis, compared with 39 days when patients decided against fertility preservation.

“What this tells us is these women can still go on to build a family,” said senior study author Dr Mitchell Rosen, a reproductive health researcher at the University of California San Francisco.

“It only takes two weeks, and it isn’t going to cause any delay in their cancer treatment,” Rosen said.

When chemotherapy is needed soon after a breast cancer diagnosis, doctors generally advise that it begin within four to six weeks to avoid hurting women’s survival odds.

For the study, researchers examined data from medical records for breast cancer patients between the ages of 18 and 45 who were referred to the UCSF Center for Reproductive Health between 2011 and 2017 before starting chemotherapy.

Women started chemotherapy at roughly the same time whether or not they decided to first harvest eggs and freeze eggs or embryos, researchers report in Human Reproduction.

The findings suggest that random-start ovarian stimulation may be a viable option for women with breast cancer or other types of malignancies who don’t want to lose their ability to have children after tumors are in remission, said Dr. Kutluk Oktay, director of the Innovation Institute for Fertility Preservation and IVF in New York and a researcher at Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut.

“With this approach, a patient can be started on ovarian stimulation even on the day of the initial consultation and can be done with embryo or egg freezing in two weeks,” Oktay, who wasn’t involved in the study, said.

“And if she has more time, she can even do multiple cycles of freezing without risking a delay in chemotherapy,” Oktay said. “Random start extends all women who are considering embryo or egg freezing before chemotherapy for any type of cancer more flexibility and ability to preserve fertility with the least delay before initiating ovary damaging cancer treatments.”

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