The heartbreak of a breast cancer diagnosis often comes with a fear that cancer treatments will bring on early menopause. A new treatment may help women preserve their ability to have children, if they are diagnosed in the early stages of the disease.

Young women (under age 50), receiving treatment for hormone-receptor-negative breast cancer, a type more common in black women, often go through early menopause. While black women have a lower incidence rate of breast cancer overall, black women under age 45 have a higher rate of the disease.

A study presented at the 2014 meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in Chicago, showed that women who were treated with the drug goserelin (Zoladex) while receiving chemotherapy were 64 percent less likely to experience premature menopause than women who received chemotherapy alone. They were also more likely to survive breast cancer.

Kathy Albain, M.D., an oncologist at Loyola University Medical Center and the senior author of the study, reported: “This is the first time anything has been shown to prevent this. I think these findings are going to change clinical practice.”

Better Survival Rates

Goserelin temporarily shuts down the ovaries while a woman receives chemotherapy. This process may work to protect the ovaries so that they function properly once the chemotherapy is completed.

Albain’s study included 257 women. Half were given chemotherapy with goserelin, half were given chemotherapy alone. Only 8 percent of the women in the goserelin group experienced ovarian failure, versus 22 percent of the women in the group that received chemotherapy alone. Sixteen women in the goserelin group delivered a healthy baby several years after the study, another three were still pregnant when the study was completed.

Goserelin also appears to improve survival. Women who received the drug were 50 percent more likely to be alive four years after receiving the treatment. After four years, 89 percent of the women in the chemotherapy-plus-goserelin group showed no signs of cancer, compared with 78 percent of those in the chemotherapy-only group.

Early Detection Key

It is especially important to note that the women in the study had early stage breast cancer. Breast cancer in black women is more likely diagnosed at a later stage. To protect yourself, talk to your doctor about your personal risk factors, keep up with annual mammograms and get plenty of exercise. Working out regularly can lower your risk.