Chemo may have lasting effect on fertility

Irish Health

August 27, 2011
by Deborah Condon]

Chemotherapy may have a greater effect on a woman’s fertility than first estimated, a new study indicates.

According to US researchers, previous studies have tended to focus on whether a woman’s periods come back after treatment. The absence of menstruation is known as amenorrhoea and until now, it has been viewed as one of the main reproductive side-effects associated with chemotherapy.

It has long been thought that once periods return, a woman can consider herself fertile again.

“However, we found chemotherapy essentially narrows a woman’s reproductive window by causing a range of damage to the ovaries, even if her menses (periods) resume after chemotherapy,” explained lead researcher, Dr Mitchell Rosen, of the University of California, San Francisco.

Over 1,000 women aged between 18 and 40 took part in the study. All had been diagnosed with one of five types of cancer – breast cancer, gastrointestinal cancer, leukaemia, Hodgkin’s disease and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

The researchers found that 5% of those with gastrointestinal cancer who were treated with chemotherapy suffered acute ovarian failure – in other words, their periods never resumed. This figure rose to 8% for those with Hodgkin’s disease, 9% for those with breast cancer and 10% for those with non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

However, the study also found that among those who did not experience acute ovarian failure, the risk of infertility increased with age at the time of diagnosis. For example, among women with Hodgkin’s disease, almost one in five who were aged 20 at the time of diagnosis were found to be infertile. But this jumped to almost six in 10 women when they were aged 35 at the time of diagnosis.

The study also found that women were significantly more likely to experience an early menopause – before the age of 45 – the younger they were when they were diagnosed with cancer. For example, among those diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, over half aged 20 could expect an early menopause, compared to less than one in five 35-year-olds.

The researchers called for further studies in this area.


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Author: Leslie Carol Botha

Author, publisher, radio talk show host and internationally recognized expert on women's hormone cycles. Social/political activist on Gardasil the HPV vaccine for adolescent girls. Co-author of "Understanding Your Mood, Mind and Hormone Cycle." Honorary advisory board member for the Foundation for the Study of Cycles and member of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research.