10 June 2016

Despite NICE guidance recommending fertility options be offered to young women facing cancer treatment

Just over half (53%) of younger women diagnosed with breast cancer have no discussion with healthcare professionals about fertility preservation options, which include freezing embryos or eggs, according to new findings from Breast Cancer Care.1

Shockingly, this is despite National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines recommending women of reproductive age are offered fertility preservation before starting breast cancer treatment.2

The majority (86%) of almost 500 younger women surveyed by Breast Cancer Care said they received chemotherapy, a treatment that can cause infertility.3 4 The survey also revealed more than a quarter (28%) of younger women with breast cancer would like to have a child or add to their family after treatment.5

The charity is concerned that younger women with breast cancer are being denied the chance to make an informed decision about trying to preserve their fertility. This includes egg or embryo freezing.

Naomi Sneade, 32, from Bournemouth, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012 when she was 29, and then her cancer came back at the end of 2014. She says:

“There was so much information to take in after my breast cancer diagnosis. I was told the chemotherapy I needed could affect my fertility, that there was a drug that could protect my ovaries and then it was on to the next step.  

“There was no discussion about fertility preservation and I didn’t even realise there were options until I met other young women who talked about freezing their eggs and embryos. I’ve always seen having kids in my future and now I worry I’ve missed the chance to try and preserve my fertility. This is devastating.

“So when my cancer came back a year ago, fertility was my first question, instead of my last. But sadly no one can answer whether I’ll be able to start a family.”

Samia al Qadhi, Chief Executive of Breast Cancer Care, says:

“These worrying findings suggest younger women with breast cancer are being left in the dark. They are not getting the chance to talk about preserving their fertility alongside treating the cancer.

“On top of being told you have breast cancer, chemotherapy can shatter young women’s hopes of a family. After diagnosis there is a short window of opportunity to try and preserve fertility.

“So we are calling for shared responsibility between healthcare professionals to ensure younger women with breast cancer have the conversation they deserve about fertility preservation options as early as possible. While fertility preservation may not be wanted by everyone, it is extremely important for thousands of younger women with breast cancer.”

Breast Cancer Care is calling for improved communication between breast and fertility clinics. The charity has also developed a new Fertility Toolkit for setting up a fertility referral pathway for young women with breast cancer at the point of diagnosis. This will help ensure they are given the choice to have a discussion with a fertility specialist.

Anyone looking for support can visit breastcancercare.org.uk or call the Helpline on 0808 800 6000 from day one.

-Ends-

For further information, please contact:

Sophie Softley Pierce, PR Officer, Breast Cancer Care

020 7960 3505 (out of hours 07702 901 334)

Sophie.pierce@breastcancercare.org.uk 

Notes to editors

Becky Leach, 36, from Hemel Hempstead, was diagnosed with breast cancer in November 2015, she says:

“Once my chemotherapy treatment got the go ahead, there was no mention of fertility preservation options at all. I had to raise the fertility question myself. If I hadn’t it wouldn’t have even been on the agenda.

“Your head can feel all over the place after a breast cancer diagnosis, but as a young woman it’s so important you get the chance to pause and think and talk about your future fertility.

“Having all the information and access to support are crucial to help you make a decision you’ll be happy with once you finish treatment and are moving forward with the rest of your life.”

Rebecca Swift, 34, from Birmingham, was diagnosed with breast cancer in July 2014 when she was 32 years old. She says:

“A discussion about my future fertility was mentioned as something that could be squeezed in before my breast cancer treatment started. I got the impression it wasn’t a good idea to delay things.

“It’s tough to make a potentially life-changing decision with vague information and it felt like conversations about fertility were pushed aside.

“Then when hospital treatment is over everything hits you. I’ve been thinking a lot about whether a family could be in my future recently. There are no definite answers. I don’t feel like I’ve been in control and I’ve now been left to deal with the aftermath.”

Figures from a Breast Cancer Care survey. Fieldwork was undertaken online between Monday 25 January and Tuesday 9 February 2016. Total sample size: 556 women. Primary breast cancer sample size: 496 women.

Percentages have been rounded to the nearest whole number, for exact figures please contact Sophie Softley Pierce.

All mentions of younger women refer to Breast Cancer Care’s definition of younger women diagnosed with breast cancer as those 45 years old and under. Around 5,600 women aged 45 and under are diagnosed with breast cancer each year.

Total sample size for individual questions may vary due to women answering specific questions according to their personal experience.

1 249 women with primary breast cancer answered ‘no’, when asked “Did your healthcare professionals discus fertility preservation options with you?” from 474 total responses; 53%

2 NICE clinical guideline: Fertility 

3 427 women with primary breast cancer responded that chemotherapy was a treatment they have received, from 496 total responses; 86%

4 Chemotherapy causes changes within the ovaries, which may lead to infertility.

5 135 women with primary breast cancer answered ‘yes’, when asked “Would you like to have a child/another child?” from 479 total responses; 28%

About Breast Cancer Care

When you have breast cancer, everything changes. Time becomes measured in appointments. The next scan. The next results. The next challenge.

At Breast Cancer Care, we understand the emotions, challenges and decisions you face every day. So, from the day you notice something’s not right to the day you begin to move forward, we’ll be here to help you through.

Whether you want to speak to our nurses, download our specialist information or connect with volunteers who have faced what you are facing now, we can help you feel more in control.

For care, support and information from day one, call our nurses free on 0808 800 6000 or visit breastcancercare.org.uk