Skip to content

Breast Cancer Health Center

Older Moms and Breast Cancer Risk

Elizabeth Edwards’ Breast Cancer Raises Issues About Older Motherhood, Fertility Drugs
Font Size
A
A
A
By
WebMD Health News

Nov. 5, 2004 -- Still feeling the excitement of Election Day 2004, the nation heard the news that Elizabeth Edwards, wife of defeated Democratic vice-presidential candidate John Edwards, has breast cancer.

The report, which surfaced Thursday, revealed that the 55-year-old mother of three had a biopsy that confirmed invasive ductal breast cancer -- one of the most common forms of the disease.

Though it's currently impossible to pinpoint a cause behind breast cancer, medical research has shown there to be an association between breast cancer and certain factors, such as older age, family history of breast cancer, having your first child after age 30 or never having children, starting periods before age 12, beginning menopause after age 50, and being overweight. And there are likely many other unknown factors -- and many are likely beyond a woman's control.

The question on the minds of some experts is whether or not Edwards' pregnancies at age 48 and 50 and methods she used to get pregnant could have played a role.

"In light of what we now know about links between cancer and late-age pregnancy, and more recently, about hormone use and cancer, it's a valid question. Unfortunately, it's one that is, at best, difficult to answer," says Julia Smith, MD, director of the brand new Breast Cancer Screening and Prevention Program at the NYU Cancer Institute in New York City.

Smith tells WebMD that what we do know thus far is that the risk of breast cancer increases as a woman ages, and it also rises in relation to the age at which she has her first child, beginning at age 30. Also important, she says, is a woman's age when her last child is born.

"The older a woman is when she has her first baby and her last baby, the greater her risk of breast cancer in the future," says Smith.

According to news reports, Edwards was in her early 30s when her first two children were born -- a son, Wade, who passed away in an accident in 1996, and her daughter, Catherine, now 22. Edwards was approximately 48 when she became pregnant with her second daughter, Emma Claire, and about 50 when she conceived her son Jack.

1 | 2 | 3 | 4

Today on WebMD

Breast Cancer Overview
From self-exams and biopsies to reconstruction, we’ve got you covered.
Dealing with breast cancer
Get answers to your questions.
 
woman having mammogram
Experts don’t agree on all fronts, but you can be your own advocate.
woman undergoing breast cancer test
Many women worry. But the truth? Most abnormalities aren’t breast cancer.
 
Breast Cancer Treatments Improving
VIDEO
Resolved To Quit Smoking
SLIDESHOW
 
Woman getting mammogram
Article
Screening Tests for Women
SLIDESHOW
 
ovarian cancer overview slideshow
SLIDESHOW
serious woman
Article
 
what is your cancer risk
HEALTH CHECK
10 Ways to Revitalize Slideshow
SLIDESHOW