Feature Archive

How Breast Cancer Affects Fertility

What there is to know about having a baby when you have breast cancer.

WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Brunilda Nazario

Breast cancer can be scary enough without wondering if it will also prevent you from having children. More and more American women are diagnosed with breast cancer in their childbearing years, and many want to know how the disease will affect their fertility.

While there's no one-size-fits-all answer to this complex question, WebMD asked the experts for answers to some tough questions including: What are risks posed by cancer treatment, methods of preserving fertility, and ways cancer might affect future offspring.

More than 11,000 women under 40 are diagnosed with breast cancer in the U.S. each year. How breast cancer treatment affects fertility depends largely on three factors: the type of treatment used, type and stage of the cancer at diagnosis, and the age of the patient.

Type of treatment

Not all breast cancer treatments affect fertility.

"If a patient needs only surgery and radiation and no chemotherapy, the treatment will have no impact on future fertility," Robert Barbierri, MD, chief of obstetrics and gynecology at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, tells WebMD. The same, however, cannot be said for chemotherapy.

Breast cancer patients treated with chemotherapy run the risk of developing premature ovarian failure or very early menopause. Almost four out of five women treated with cyclophosphamide -- an often-prescribed chemotherapy drug for treating breast cancer -- develop ovarian failure, according to Kutluk Oktay, MD, assistant professor of reproductive medicine and obstetrics and gynecology at Cornell's Center for Reproductive Medicine and Infertility. FertileHope, a nonprofit organization dedicated to disseminating education on infertility associated with breast cancer treatment, places the risk at 40% to 80%.