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Drug 'freezes' fertility of breast cancer patients, keeps hopes of having baby after chemo

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Women diagnosed with breast cancer who undergo treatment may lose their ability to have a child in the future as chemotherapy can damage the ovaries and cause sterility. A drug that can temporarily freeze fertility, however, brings hope to breast cancer patients who are still eager to have a child after their treatment.

In a new study presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in Chicago on Friday, researchers found that the hormone therapy drug Zoladex can help preserve the fertility of breast cancer patients who undergo chemotherapy.

Zoladex (goserelin), which is produced by pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca UK Limited, is a synthetic hormone that is injected to temporarily prevent the production of certain hormones in the body. The drug is used to treat prostate cancer and breast cancer, diseases that are sensitive to hormones, by suppressing the production of the sex hormones estrogen and testosterone. It is also used by women who undergo procedures to treat uterine problems.

Because the drug can temporarily shut down the ovaries, it apparently has the ability to protect against the onset of permanent early menopause that can occur in women undergoing chemotherapy. In a clinical trial, the researchers recruited more than 200 women with breast cancer who were between 18 and 49 years old. All of the participants underwent standard chemotherapy but only half were injected with goserelin once a month.

The researchers found that 80 percent of the breast cancer patients who only received chemotherapy developed ovarian failure two years after undergoing chemotherapy but only 22 percent of the participants who received both chemotherapy and goserelin treatment did suggesting that the hormonal treatment reduced the odds of breast cancer patients from developing ovarian failure by 64 percent.

Women who received both goserelin and chemotherapy treatment also had more successful pregnancies. Twenty-one percent of the women became pregnant and 15 percent successfully gave birth. Of the women who only received chemotherapy, 11 percent became pregnant and only seven percent had babies.

Breast cancer patients who received goserelin also had better survival rates with 50 percent higher chances of survival four years after starting chemotherapy. Study researcher Halle Moore, from the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, said that more studies may be needed to understand why goserelin treatment increased the patients' survival rate.

"This is the first demonstration that ovarian function is improved following this intervention," Moore said. "Survivorship has become increasingly important as we've become better at curing people of cancer."

The current option for women with breast cancer who still want to have babies is to have a number of their eggs removed from their ovaries to be frozen, which can be later used for in vitro fertilization. The process, however, is invasive and very costly.

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