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Does breast cancer affect fertility?

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Q/ Does breast cancer affect fertility rate in a woman, and how? Nancy.

A/ Dear Nancy,
Breast cancer does not affect fertility in women, but some of the treatment modalities do.

Chemotherapy: This treatment destroys fast-growing cells in the body including cancer cells and gametes (eggs and sperm in case of breast cancer in males).

It works by interfering with the cancer cells’ ability to divide and grow. Chemotherapy affects cells throughout the body, and can damage ovaries and testicles, reducing the number and quality of the eggs and sperm.

Likelihood of fertility problems depends on type of drugs used, doses given, age and one’s fertility status before treatment.

Hormonal therapy: This may interfere with body’s natural hormones causing menstrual periods to become irregular or stop while being taken.

Periods will generally start again when no longer taking hormone therapy, this could take several months.
Interference of the body’s hormonal system might cause failure of egg growth and ovulation, hence infertility.
Radiation: This treatment for breast cancer has no effect on fertility.

This is because radiotherapy is only directed to the cancer cells and breasts are located far away from where the ovaries are located.

For any woman who is to undergo any of the above treatments that might comprise fertility, it is advisable they first consult with a fertility specialist to consider freezing of eggs or even embryos prior to treatment.

Answered by
Dr Joseph Kafuuma

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