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Apr 11, 2019

Mary Lopresti, DO, is a hematologist oncologist with the Lifespan Cancer Institute, where she treats patients who have breast and gynecologic cancers. Most of her patients are younger than 42 years. 

Welcome to the ASCO Daily News podcast. I'm Lauren Davis. And joining me today is Dr. Mary Lopresti, a hematologist/oncologist with the Lifespan Cancer Institute, where she treats patients who have breast and gynecologic cancers. Most of her patients are younger than 42 years. Dr. Lopresti, welcome to the podcast.
Oh, thank you so much, Lauren, for having me today.

We're glad you're here. Today we're talking about issues around fertility and how cancer can present challenges to women who want to be able to get pregnant and grow their families. Because you treat younger patients, at what point in the diagnosis process do you mention fertility options such as egg freezing?

Well, we've made it our practice at Lifespan to discuss this at the first touch point with the patient. So our young women who are newly diagnosed with breast cancer will come in to a multidisciplinary clinic, and so they'll need a breast surgeon, medical oncologist, radiation oncologist. And besides from talking about their new diagnosis and management, at that point, we'll also ask them if they plan on growing their family or having another baby or a baby. And at that point, we'll ask them if they would desire fertility preservation. And so we really from day 1 of meeting them will explore that option.

What are some of the struggles in helping patients navigate cancer care when they also have to decide whether or not they want to preserve their fertility?

I think this biggest struggle is timing, trying to help this woman decide on her breast surgical options, discuss genetic testing. And many of these young women have aggressive breast cancers requiring chemotherapy, so it's the timing of when we give the chemotherapy. And then if we are planning to give chemotherapy, how does fertility fit in?

Many times, I think physicians shy away from mentioning fertility because there's a delay in chemotherapy, which is so important. And so we've tried to get that timing down a little bit better by developing an algorithm to get that woman to a fertility specialized in a streamlined manner, and that has helped us navigate these young women a little bit better.

What advice do you have for physicians who ideally would mention fertility preservation but sometimes leave it out because of the patient's need to start treatment such as chemotherapy as you mentioned immediately?

Well, I think that it's very understandable for an oncologist to feel like they need to leave it out if a young woman has large tumor burden and they're very worried about starting systemic therapy. But yet, I think it's really up to us as physicians to make sure that the patient has informed consent. And ASCO has published guidelines for preservation so that we can help educate our patients on what options that they have. And I think we need to continue to try to do that and put our own worries aside.
Are there patients for whom you do not recommend fertility preservation? And how do those conversations go?

I'd say in general, no. I think we offer it to anyone who desires to have a pregnancy in the future. Again, there's always a worry in a woman who has an estrogen positive breast cancer, a large tumor, bulky lymph node disease to recommend fertility preservation because the concern has generally been that you could stimulate very high levels of circulating estradiol level with preservation. But now with letrozole, which is an aromatase inhibitor, and tamoxifen, there are ways to decrease the estradiol level and still get mature follicles as well. So I think that we do recommend fertility preservation everyone.

And then just moreover on that point is that there was a recent study by Rodriguez-Wallberg and colleagues. It was a Swedish match cohort trial. And so they looked at women undergoing fertility preservation compared it to age match controls, and there was not an increase in the risk of recurrence with fertility preservation. So it's a generally safe and can be done in about a two-week period.
That's wonderful. What do you see for the future of cancer care in oncofertility?

I think our knowledge will continue to increase as newer drugs come on the market. I think we should all be concerned about fertility because we're not going to know how they affect fertility in the mechanisms there. So I think as physicians, we have to become more educated, and I think we're going to see more physicians talking to their patients. I think we're going to see more patients having access to educational materials or looking on social media for decision trees to help them with fertility preservation.

I think we're going to know more about other methods of fertility preservation like ovarian tissue retrieval, which has been largely experimental, but there has been more and more done with that. And then there's pre-implantation genetic testing which is being done. And we're going to be hearing more about that in the future as well.

That's exciting. Again, today my guest has been Dr. Mary Lopresti. Thank you for being on our podcast today.

Thank you.

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