Women treated for the cancer Hodgkin lymphoma will be able to better understand their risks of future infertility after researchers estimated their risk of premature menopause with different treatments.
The findings, set out in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, are based on the experience of more than 2,000 young women in England and Wales treated for the cancer over a period of more than 40 years.
Previous research has suggested that women with Hodgkin lymphoma who receive certain types of chemotherapy or radiotherapy are at increased risk of going through the menopause early – but there was insufficient information to provide patients with detailed advice.
But the new study, led by scientists at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, provides precise estimates of risk for women depending on which treatment types and doses they received and at what age - allowing doctors to give them detailed advice about their risks of future infertility.
The research was largely funded by Breakthrough Breast Cancer and involved researchers from across the UK at more than 50 universities and hospitals.
The research team followed-up 2,127 women who had been treated for Hodgkin lymphoma in England and Wales between 1960 and 2004, and who had been aged under 36 at the time. All had received treatment with chest radiotherapy, sometimes alongside other treatments.
Some 605 of the women in the study underwent non-surgical menopause before the age of 40. This was a large enough number for the researchers to estimate accurate risks of menopause at different ages, depending on the mixture and doses of treatments they received and the age they received them.
The researchers produced a risk table which could help improve the advice that clinicians are able to give to women who have undergone treatment for the disease. Several of the treatments caused a sharp increase in premature menopause risk.
For example, a woman who had received six or more cycles of a standard chemotherapy regimen in her late 20s, but without receiving radiotherapy to the pelvic area, had a chance of around 18 per cent of undergoing menopause by the age of 30, or 58 per cent by age 40.
Overall, risk of premature menopause was more than 20-fold raised after ovarian radiotherapy, and also after some specific chemotherapy regimens. Risk of menopause by age 40 was 81 per cent after receiving ovarian radiotherapy at an overall dose of 5 or more Grays, and up to 75 per cent after chemotherapy, depending on the type, although only one per cent after receiving a chemotherapy regimen called ABVD.
Study leader Professor Anthony Swerdlow, Professor of Epidemiology at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, said:
"Hodgkin lymphoma often affects younger women, and although fortunately most survive the disease, treatments including certain types of chemotherapy and pelvic radiotherapy can lead to premature menopause.
"We hope our study will help women to understand better, in consultation with their doctors, their risks of future infertility following treatment for this malignancy. By looking in a much larger group of women than previous studies of this type, we were able to produce age and treatment specific risk estimates that we hope will be of practical use to individual women. I'm extremely grateful to the patients and doctors who made it possible for us to produce this information."
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Breakthrough Breast Cancer is the UK's leading breast cancer charity dedicated to saving lives through improving early diagnosis, developing new treatments and preventing all types of the disease.
The need for Breakthrough Breast Cancer's work has never been greater. Breast cancer is the most common of all cancers in the UK, with 50,000 women diagnosed every year and 1,000 women dying every month.
Breast cancer is not yesterday's problem; it's a disease that affects more women every year. Breakthrough Breast Cancer is working harder than ever before to stop women getting, and dying from, the disease.
The charity funds 25% of the breast cancer research in the UK, campaigns to ensure survival rates are among the best in the world and educates women to recognise the signs and symptoms of the disease.
Over the next six years Breakthrough will take its ground-breaking work to the next level by investing at least £100 million in research that has the power to stop breast cancer for good.
For more information go to breakthrough.org.uk
JNCI Journal of the National Cancer Institute