Study reveals breast cancer survivors go on to have healthy babies

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Childbearing age breast cancer survivors were less likely to get pregnant than the general population, however

Soon-to-be parents often feel a mix of emotions while awaiting their bundle of joy. Excitement is one of them, but concerns can set in over whether or not the baby will be healthy.

This can especially be the case for women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer before they’ve been able to start a family.

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A meta-analysis of breast cancer survivors of childbearing age presented at the 2020 San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium this week showed getting pregnant is less likely for breast cancer survivors than the general public. It also indicated that they face a higher risk of certain complications such as preterm labor.

The good news? Most survivors who successfully conceive give birth to healthy babies and have no unfavorable outcomes on their long-term survival, according to a press release from the American Association for Cancer Research.

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“With the availability of more effective anticancer treatments, survivorship has gained substantial attention,” said Dr. Matteo Lambertini, Ph.D., the study’s corresponding author and adjunct professor in medical oncology at the University of Genova — IRCCS Policlinico San Martino Hospital in Genova, Italy.

“Today, returning to a normal life after cancer diagnosis and treatment should be considered as a crucial ambition in cancer care. In patients diagnosed during their reproductive years, this includes the possibility to complete their family planning.”

Experts conducted a methodical literature review of 39 studies that recognized women who had been pregnant following a breast cancer diagnosis. They assessed the studies to judge how often the patients became pregnant post-treatment. They also reviewed fetal and obstetrical results, disease-free survival and general survival.

Ultimately, researchers collected data on 114,573 breast cancer patients.

Women who had breast cancer had a 60% less chance of getting pregnant compared to the general population. Still, Lambertini noted that not all factors were accounted for in the study, including the possibility that some women didn’t try to conceive after completing breast cancer treatment. He also estimated that over half of young women who did attempt to conceive were able to do so and some women who hadn’t planned to conceive got pregnant.

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Lambertini said this implies patients of childbearing age who have had cancer should also receive reliable information about contraception.

There were also some pregnancy-related complications tied to breast cancer survivors, including a 50% higher risk of giving birth to a baby with a low birth weight, a 16% higher risk of a baby being small for their gestational age and a 14% risk of having a cesarean section. Pregnancy and breast cancer was not linked to poor patient outcomes, however.

“These findings are of paramount importance to raise awareness of the need for a deeper consideration of patients’ pregnancy desire as a crucial component of their survivorship care plan,” Lambertini said. “This starts with offering oncofertility counseling to all newly diagnosed young breast cancer patients.”

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