Contraceptive needs and fertility intentions of women with breast cancer in Cape Town, South Africa: a qualitative study

BMC Womens Health. 2020 Oct 6;20(1):224. doi: 10.1186/s12905-020-01094-3.


Background: No known studies have been undertaken in South Africa exploring the contraceptive and fertility needs and preferences of women of reproductive age (18-49) diagnosed with breast cancer. This study set out to understand the contraceptive needs and fertility intentions of women with breast cancer in Cape Town, South Africa.

Methods: Qualitative in-depth interviews were conducted with 24 women diagnosed with breast cancer and 4 health care providers at a tertiary hospital in Cape Town, South Africa. We explored contraceptive use prior to diagnosis; the impact of breast cancer on future fertility intentions and contraceptive use; understanding of suitable contraceptive methods during and after treatment and women's fertility related counseling needs during their continuum of care. Data were analysed using a thematic analysis approach.

Results: Since being diagnosed with breast cancer, of those women using a contraceptive method, the non-hormonal intrauterine device (IUD) was the most commonly used method. However, women reported receiving limited information from health care providers about contraceptive use and future fertility planning post treatment when fertility desires might change. Many women reported limited information received from healthcare providers about the impact of cancer treatment on their future fertility. Most women did not receive information around fertility preservation options, and few were familiar with the concept. Providers focus was more on preventing pregnancy during treatment and ensuring a patient was on a non-hormonal contraceptive method. Providers supported a more holistic, multidisciplinary approach to breast cancer patient's contraceptive and future fertility needs.

Conclusions: Limited contraceptive and future fertility counseling were reported by women despite many women being provided with the IUD. There is a need for improved information and counseling regarding the impact of treatment on contraceptive and fertility options. It is important that cancer care providers provide timely information regarding fertility options and communicate with patients about their fertility concerns prior to treatment and throughout the course of survivorship. The development of evidence-based information tools to enhance patient-provider communication and counseling could address knowledge gaps.

Keywords: Breast cancer; Contraception; Fertility intentions; Fertility preservation; Qualitative methods; South Africa.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Breast Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Contraception / methods*
  • Contraception Behavior*
  • Contraceptive Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Family Planning Services / organization & administration*
  • Female
  • Fertility
  • Health Services Needs and Demand*
  • Humans
  • Intention*
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Pregnancy
  • Qualitative Research
  • Reproductive Health Services
  • South Africa


  • Contraceptive Agents