One of the main concerns of cancer survivors is loss of fertility and the ability to bear children. However, although a large number of breast cancer survivors still retain their reproductive potential, doctors are worried that pregnancy for these women can lead to hormonal changes that cause recurrence of the cancer.
A recent study however reports that these concerns are unfounded and that pregnancy for breast cancer survivors is quite safe and does not seem to increase the risk for recurrence.
Belgian researchers lead by Dr. Hatem Azim of the Institute Jules Bordet conducted a meta-analysis of results from 14 previous trials that involved 1,400 pregnant women with a history of breast cancer. Their outcomes were then compared to outcomes of more than 18,000 breast cancer survivors who were not pregnant. Surprisingly, pregnancy seemed to actually lower the risk of recurrence of the cancer – by 42%.
According to Maria Leadbeater, a cancer expert at Breast Cancer Care:
Experts used to believe that pregnancy is too risky for breast cancer survivors due to the complex relationship between the female hormones and the development of cancer.
“Estrogen is known to trigger breast cancer and women typically have more estrogen when they’re pregnant. But very high doses of the hormone can also kill cancer cells… Other hormones that are elevated in pregnancy, like the one for breast-feeding, have been proven to protect against breast cancer.”
However, the issue of pregnancy needs to be seriously discussed with doctors because this might not be advisable for all patients. Some factors to be taken into consideration are:
- type of breast cancer
- response to treatment.
- time after treatment
Doctors’ opinions as to the time between treatment and trying to have a baby vary.
- Hormone therapy for breast cancer typically lasts for about 5 years, during which pregnancy is not advisable.
- Others believe a waiting time of 2 years as this is the period when relapse rate is highest.
The study results give hope to women who would like to have children despite cancer. The researchers hope that doctors should more open-minded and encouraging.
According to Dr. Azim: