Health Watch: Tamoxifen & Fertility

By  | 

Breast cancer treatments can sometimes damage a woman's chances of having children. But help could be on the way from an unexpected source.

Elizabeth Adams has been on an incredible journey over the past several years. "There was something on the mammogram-there were calcifications that needed to be investigated." The calcifications turned out to be breast cancer.

So at the age of 40, she faced surgery, possible chemotherapy, radiation, and the damage they cause to the ovaries. But she didn't want to give up her dream of having a baby.

But trying to get pregnant is a Catch-22 for breast cancer patients. Fertility medications increase a woman's estrogen levels to help her produce more eggs and conceive. Yet cancer specialists often try to reduce a woman's estrogen levels to help her fight breast cancer.

Before damaging treatment, Elizabeth and a handful of other women entered a very small fertility study in New York City, trying to do both.

The study used the drug Tamoxifen, which is well known for its success against breast cancer, and related to the common fertility drug Clomid.

"What we found is that when you use Tamoxifen-the yield of eggs and embryos was much higher. It was approximately three times higher than in natural cycle patients," said Dr. Kudluk Oktay of the New York Weill-Cornell Medical Center.

Still, others in the fertility field, as well as the study's authors, admit there's more research to be done.

"The advantage to Tamoxifen is theoretically and only theoretically," said Dr. Jamie Grifo of New York University Medical Center. "It's a safer drug for these patients than we currently use. But that's really where the investigation should be focused. How risky are our current treatments? They may be better but we don't know yet."

The message today is that breast cancer patients still can have families. Elizabeth Adams is due in the spring.