Among young women undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer, use of the drug triptorelin to suppress ovarian function during treatment does not appear to improve post-treatment menstrual function. These results were published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.
Fertility preservation is increasingly being recognized as an important issue for young people with cancer. In premenopausal women, many chemotherapy drugs are toxic to the egg cells (oocytes) in the ovaries. If the number of remaining oocytes in the ovaries reaches a critically low point during treatment, women experience “acute ovarian failure.” This means that the ovaries stop functioning during or shortly after cancer treatment. If oocytes are lost during treatment but do not reach this critically low point, women are at risk for early menopause but may still be able to get pregnant for some time after treatment.
Freezing embryos prior to cancer treatment is one of the most well established approaches to fertility preservation in young women, but is not always an option. One of the alternative approaches being evaluated involves the use of drugs known as gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) agonists to suppress ovarian function during chemotherapy. The hope is that this will protect the ovaries and improve post-treatment ovarian function.
To explore the effects of the GnRH agonist triptorelin during chemotherapy for breast cancer, researchers conducted a study among premenopausal women age 44 or younger. Study participants were assigned to receive either triptorelin or a placebo. The study was originally designed to enroll 124 women, but it was stopped after only 49 women were enrolled because preliminary results indicated no benefit from triptorelin.
- Menstruation resumed in 88 percent of women in the triptorelin group and 90 percent of women in the placebo group.
- Menstrual cycles resumed after a median of 5.8 months in the triptorelin group and 5.0 months in the placebo group.
These results suggest that triptorelin does not improve post-treatment menstrual function in young breast cancer patients. Other, ongoing studies will provide more information on this topic.
Premenopausal women who are interested in preserving their fertility during cancer treatment are advised to discuss their options with their physician before treatment begins.
Reference: Munster PN, Moore AP, Ismail-Khan R et al. Randomized trial using gonadotropin-releasing hormone agonist triptorelin for the preservation of ovarian function during (neo)adjuvant chemotherapy for breast cancer. Journal of Clinical Oncology. Early online publication January 9, 2012.
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