Women need not wait to conceive after breast cancer

December 07, 2006

Young women who are diagnosed with breast cancer need not wait the recommended two years after treatment before attempting to conceive, says a study published on bmj.com today.

Women of childbearing age who are diagnosed with breast cancer are currently advised to wait at least two years after treatment to become pregnant. This is mainly to identify those who relapse early and have a poor prognosis, but there are no published data to suggest that postponing conception will affect the outcome of the cancer or pregnancy. In fact, some studies have implied that subsequent pregnancy may provide a survival benefit.

So researchers in Western Australia set out to investigate the effects of pregnancy after breast cancer.

They identified 123 women aged 15-44 who were diagnosed with breast cancer and had at least one pregnancy after their diagnosis. The average age at first subsequent pregnancy was 35.

Sixty two (50%) women conceived within two years of their diagnosis (29 of them had an abortion, 27 had a live birth, and six miscarried). More abortions occurred in the first six months after breast cancer was diagnosed and while the woman was undergoing active treatment.

Women who became pregnant had improved overall survival compared with those who didn't. This protective effect was seen for women who waited at least six months to become pregnant, but it was stronger (statistically significant) among women who waited two years after treatment.

This study does not support the current medical advice given to premenopausal women diagnosed with breast cancer to wait two years before attempting to conceive, say the authors.

This recommendation may be valid for women who are receiving treatment or have systemic disease at diagnosis, but for women with localised disease, early conception after completion of their treatment is unlikely to adversely affect their survival, they conclude.


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