Concerns about fertility often influence how young women with breast cancer approach treatment decisions and are a reason for forgoing or delaying hormone-blocking therapy, according to findings from a recent study published by Sella et al in the journal Cancer.
The findings reinforce the need for physicians to talk with patients about their fertility-related priorities and address them in treatment plans, according to the study authors. Such conversations are important not only at the start of treatment but during its entire course, as patients' goals and preferences may change over time.
"Young women with breast cancer face unique challenges, including issues surrounding fertility," said the study's lead author Tal Sella, MD, of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. "For many premenopausal women with hormone receptor (HR)-positive breast cancer, long-term endocrine therapy may prevent patients from having children while treatment is underway. In this study, we explored the degree to which fertility concerns affect patients' decisions about receiving such therapy."
Young women with HR-positive breast cancer—which may grow in response to the hormones estrogen or progesterone—are usually treated with surgery, followed by chemotherapy, and at least 5 years of endocrine therapy to prevent the cancer from recurring. Endocrine therapy reduces the risk of disease recurrence by about 50%, research indicates, making it the most effective component of adjuvant therapy.
For this study, researchers surveyed 643 participants in the Young Women's Breast Cancer Study, a multi-institutional study of more than 1,300 women aged 40 or younger when diagnosed with breast cancer from 2006 and 2016. The participants—all of whom had HR-positive, stage I to III breast cancer—were asked at the time of their diagnosis about their medical history, current medications, fertility concerns, and endocrine therapy decisions, among other subjects. Follow-up surveys were conducted every 6 months for the next 3 years, and annually after that.
During the first 2 years after diagnosis, one-third of respondents indicated that fertility concerns affected their decisions regarding endocrine therapy. Forty percent of those who reported these concerns chose not to start, or to discontinue, such therapy, compared to 20% of those without such concerns. Of the women who expressed concerns and opted against or stopped endocrine therapy, 66% reported at least one pregnancy or pregnancy attempt during that 2-year period. Women who had had children before their diagnosis were less likely to indicate that fertility concerns affected their endocrine therapy decisions than those who were childless.
These findings will be helpful in conjunction with those of the POSITIVE trial, which is examining whether it is safe for young women with breast cancer to take a break from endocrine therapy in order to have a child. Results of the trial are expected within the coming years.
"Our findings shed new light on the dilemma facing many young women with HR-positive breast cancer: whether to optimize adjuvant treatment or fulfill their desire for children in the near term," said senior study author Shoshana Rosenberg, ScD, MPH, also of Dana-Farber. "Physicians can best help their patients by understanding their goals and developing treatment strategies that incorporate their needs."
Disclosure: Financial support for the study was provided by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality; the Pinchas Borenstein Talpiot Medical Leadership Program, Sheba Medical Center, Israel, and the American Physicians Fellowship for Medicine in Israel; Susan G. Komen; and the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. For full disclosures of the study authors, visit acsjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com.The content in this post has not been reviewed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. (ASCO®) and does not necessarily reflect the ideas and opinions of ASCO®.