Drug May Prevent Chemo-Linked Menopause in Breast Cancer Patients

But, experts say treatment may not preserve fertility, has drawbacks


Posted: July 19, 2011

By Amanda Gardner
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, July 19 (HealthDay News) — Giving the ovaries a rest when young women with breast cancer are undergoing chemotherapy may help prevent early menopause and preserve fertility.

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According to new research in the July 20 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, shutting down the ovaries by giving the hormone triptorelin when a patient is undergoing chemotherapy helped prevent early menopause.

Triptorelin appears to protect the ovaries by halting ovarian function temporarily, although it’s not entirely clear why. The authors found that among women who took triptorelin in addition to chemotherapy, more than 63 percent regained the ability to menstruate, compared to about 50 percent of the women who had chemotherapy alone.

The study authors suggest that this option could help women with breast cancer who want to prevent early menopause. About 6 percent of women with breast cancer are diagnosed before age 40, and chemotherapy is often associated with premature menopause.

But, experts not involved with the study had reservations about the use of triptorelin.

The treatment could have drawbacks, said Dr. Lauren Cassell, chief of breast surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

“Just because you resume menses [menstruation] doesn’t mean that you’re going to have fertilization. You don’t really know how this is going to affect long-term outcomes,” she said.

Dr. Paula Ryan, a medical oncologist with Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia had the same two concerns: that adding triptorelin might affect long-term breast cancer outcomes and may not even preserve fertility.

“I wouldn’t take this study and ultimately suggest that it be the standard of care,” she said.

The study looked only at younger, premenopausal women with breast cancer — aged 18 to 45 — and only those who had earlier-stage breast cancer.

Some 40 percent of women undergoing chemotherapy experience early menopause, although the incidence is more likely with certain types of chemo.

Right now, the best option for women with breast cancer wanting to have children or at least the option of having children is to go through in vitro fertilization before treatment, then have the embryo preserved, said Ryan.


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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.