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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 continued...

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.

"A patient needs to say to herself, 'What do I want in the future' and ask the doctor, 'What's this [treatment] going to do with my future plans for fertility?'" says Ann Partridge, MD, MPH, breast oncologist and instructor at Harvard School of Medicine in Boston.

Others agree. "You need to have as much information as possible," says Karen Dow, PhD, RN, professor at University of Central Florida's School of Nursing. She suggests getting a third or even fourth opinion, ideally from doctors in different specialties -- oncology, reproductive endocrinology, gynecology -- since each will bring a unique perspective unique to the table.

"It would be wonderful if, in the future, doctors would all come together to say, 'Hey, here's what's out there, here's what it means to you,'" Dow says. But for now, it's up to the patient to seek information on her options, as early as possible.

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