No fertility treatment for many with breast cancer

Nicole Porterfield had IVF after cancer diagnosis. Picture: Anna Henly

Nicole Porterfield had IVF after cancer diagnosis. Picture: Anna Henly

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ONLY one in ten women diagnosed with breast cancer is being offered the chance to have fertility treatment, despite treatment for the disease leaving them potentially unable to have children, a study has found.

According to the charity Breast Cancer Care, 88 per cent of women under 45 were not referred to a fertility clinic to discuss the possibility of freezing eggs or embryos ahead of cancer treatment.

The charity said this is leading to an estimated 5,000 younger breast cancer patients across the UK missing out on fertility care.

Researchers also questioned breast cancer oncologists, surgeons and nurses, and found that 35 per cent are not telling younger breast cancer patients at diagnosis how treatment could affect their fertility, leaving them completely unaware of the risks.

Samia al Qadhi, Breast Cancer Care chief executive, said: “Our research shows that too many younger breast cancer patients are being denied the chance to preserve their fertility before they start cancer treatment.

“There are two clear reasons for this: many healthcare professionals are not discussing fertility options and clear referral systems are not in place.

“This is an unacceptable situation, as breast cancer is a disease which robs many women of a chance to start a family. We urgently need all healthcare professionals to talk to women about their fertility options at the point of diagnosis.”

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Nicolas White, head of Breast Cancer Care Scotland, said: “Our research has shown that many women don’t realise how infertility is a real possibility following chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer.

“For the majority of younger women diagnosed with breast cancer, healthcare professionals are not discussing their fertility options before treatment. Cancer patient Catherine Coombe, 45, said she found it difficult to move forward with her life after discovering she could no longer conceive.

She said: “I was diagnosed five years ago when I was 39. I was single and wasn’t offered the opportunity to speak to a specialist about preserving my fertility.

“Despite having a nursing background, I didn’t fully realise the damaging impact treatment would have on my fertility. This was never addressed.

“At such an overwhelming time, I just didn’t think; I was only focused on getting the cancer out and getting better.

“It was only much later I realised the option of having my own children was gone and that has made moving forward from my diagnosis so much harder.

“Just having the opportunity to discuss options with the right people would have been invaluable in helping me.”

Breast Cancer Care also found that 60 per cent of women are unaware that infertility is a possibility after chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer.

Case study

Nicole Porterfield was 26 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago.

She was referred to the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary to discuss IVF and freezing her eggs. After much discussion Nicole and her fiancé Dave decided to have embryos frozen in February 2013, a year before they were due to get married.

She said: “Dave and I were having to have very serious conversations about whether or not I would want him to be able to use the embryos if I wasn’t here, or whether he would want me to use them if he wasn’t.”

“I was offered fertility treatment after my surgery and before I started chemotherapy, so we took it.

“The cancer is completely gone and I’m on Tamoxifen for the next five years but I’ve recently found out I have the gene which means my cancer was hereditary, so I’m possibly going to have preventative surgery.”

She added: “I would say to other women with breast cancer to take fertility treatment if it’s offered – it’s scary because you don’t know what’s going to happen to you but [it] offers you a wee bit piece of mind.”

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