BARCELONA, Spain – Women who survive breast cancer and have children afterwards don’t appear to be at any higher risk of dying from cancer, a new study says.
Doctors have long worried pregnancy might spark hormonal changes in breast cancer survivors that could spur the disease’s return, and many breast cancer patients are counseled against getting pregnant after they recover.
In research to be presented at this week’s breast cancer conference in Barcelona, experts said pregnancy in women who have been treated for breast cancer is safe and does not seem to be linked with the disease’s recurrence.
Dr. Hatem Azim of the Institute Jules Bordet in Belgium and colleagues analyzed results from 14 previous trials that followed more than 1,400 pregnant women with a history of breast cancer. Those women became pregnant several months to several years after finishing treatment. Azim and colleagues compared those women to more than 18,000 women who had had breast cancer and were not pregnant.
“I hope this changes what doctors tell their patients,” Azim said. “There’s no reason to tell women who survive breast cancer not to get pregnant.”
Azim and colleagues found that the women who got pregnant had a 42 percent lower risk of dying compared with breast cancer survivors who did not get pregnant.
“For many years, pregnancy was considered a risk for women who had breast cancer,” said Maria Leadbeater, a cancer expert at Breast Cancer Care, a British charity. “But this study seems to show the risk is not an issue once you’ve been treated,” she said. Leadbeater was not connected to Azim’s study.
Azim hypothesized that the relationship between hormones and breast cancer might be more complicated than doctors initially thought. 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, Azim said.
Other hormones that are elevated in pregnancy, like the one for breast-feeding, have been proven to protect against breast cancer.