How Breast Cancer Affects Fertility
What there is to know about having a baby when you have breast cancer.
Conception Concerns: Relapse, Harm to Offspring
For survivors who remain fertile, questions about conception remain. Relapse
is one of them.
"A common clinical recommendation is that a survivor wait two years
before attempting to become pregnant, since most serious relapses will occur
within the first two years after treatment," Barbierri tells WebMD. "If
you wait two years, there's no strong evidence that pregnancy will influence
the course of disease."
Survivors also worry that their offspring will be at risk for cancer.
According to experts, that risk is small. "Only 5% of breast cancers are
truly inherited via a specific genetic mutation," Domcheck tells WebMD.
"If you have an inherited genetic mutation, you have a 50-50 chance of
passing it on to your children." To date, researchers have identified a few
genetic mutations that contribute to breast cancer; these include BCRA-1 and
What is the prognosis for offspring who do inherit one of these genetic
mutations? "There does not appear to be an increased risk of childhood
cancers. However, these children are at a slightly higher risk for developing
ovarian and breast cancers," Domcheck says.
But genetics are only part of the picture.
"It's likely that an interplay between a collection of genes, when added
to certain environmental factors, results in breast cancer," Domcheck says.
Known environmental risk factors include moderate or heavy drinking (for women,
two or more drinks per day), having children later in life, and obesity.
Survivors also question the impact of cancer treatment on future offspring.
The news on this front is very encouraging. "There does not seem to be any
increased risk of birth defects if the woman who's gone through breast cancer
treatment gets pregnant. Even if the woman gets chemotherapy during pregnancy,
fetuses do surprisingly well," Domcheck tells WebMD.
Addressing Fertility With Your Doctor
Absorbing news of a breast cancer diagnosis as well as focusing on how it
might affect future fertility can be overwhelming. But because oncologists are
trained to provide the best cancer treatment available -- not necessarily in
light of fertility options -- patients interested in seeking information on
fertility need to be proactive.