The ovary glands produce estrogen and typically release one egg a month during women's fertile years. / PhotoDisc
For some young women, one of the most crushing side effects of breast cancer treatment is early menopause, which ends their chances of becoming pregnant.
A new study shows that these women have a better chance of preserving their future fertility if they temporarily turn off their ovaries during chemotherapy. The ovary glands produce estrogen and typically release one egg a month during women's fertile years.
Early menopause can cause a number of medical complications, including an increased risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures.
The procedure involves injections of an existing hormone-suppressing drug called goserelin,
which lowers estrogen levels, preventing women from getting regular menstrual cycles, according to the study of 218 women presented Friday at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in Chicago. Both groups of women in the study, who were ages 18 to 49, received the same chemo regimen.
Two years later, women who had been randomly selected to take the medication saw a number of benefits, compared with women who didn't take the drug.
* Women who took the drug were 64% less likely to have their ovaries fail, which occurs when women miss their periods for six months or more. About 22% of women who got standard chemo experienced ovarian failure, compared with 8% of those who also took goserelin.
* Women who received goserelin were twice as likely to have become pregnant, according to the study, funded by the National Institutes of Health. About 21% of women who took goserelin became pregnant and 15% delivered a baby. In comparison, 11% of those who did not take goserelin became pregnant and 7% of them had a baby. About the same number of women in each group had tried to conceive.
* Women who took goserelin were also 50% more likely to be alive four years later than women who didn't receive goserelin.
"Premenopausal women beginning chemotherapy for early breast cancer should consider this new option," said lead author Halle Moore,
an oncologist at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, in a statement.
It's possible that turning off the ovaries protects them from the effects of chemo, which fights cancer by targeting cells that are growing and dividing, says Clifford Hudis,
president of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, who was not involved in the new research. While authors of the new study focused on breast cancer patients, the technique would likely benefit women being treated for other kinds of cancer, he says.
The study included only women whose breast cancers are fueled by hormones.
Nearly 11,000 women under age 40 are diagnosed with invasive breast cancer each year, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Traditionally, women looking to preserve their chances of becoming pregnant after chemo have had to undergo invasive treatments, such as harvesting and storing ovarian tissue or embryos. Banking embryos isn't an option for all women, however, such as those without partners.
Although a handful of earlier studies had suggested goserelin might be beneficial, cancer specialists haven't recommended it to women. This trial may lead many doctors to recommend it more widely, says Patricia Ganz, a breast cancer specialist at UCLA's Jonsson Cancer Center who wasn't involved in the study.
Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com
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