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Breast Cancer Health Center

Older Moms and Breast Cancer Risk

Elizabeth Edwards’ Breast Cancer Raises Issues About Older Motherhood, Fertility Drugs
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Fertility and Breast Cancer: What Women Should Know continued...

At the same time, however, Pisarska reminds us that other studies have shown no link to breast cancer. In addition, she says research shows that breastfeeding lowers a woman's overall risk, as does pregnancy itself, and, that other hormones present in the body during pregnancy may also reduce some cancer risks as well.

"Again, we're back to the idea that there are clearly no finite conclusions on this subject -- and we need more studies and we need more statistics, before we can accurately draw those conclusions," says Pisarska.

Protecting Your Breasts and Your Motherhood

While experts conservatively estimate it may be a decade or more before we have enough data to draw those accurate conclusions, doctors also say that older women seeking to get pregnant -- or those who already have -- need not feel frightened about pursuing their parenting dreams.

The reason: Tremendous breakthroughs in breast cancer prevention -- and the development of risk assessment programs so finely tuned, doctors can now intervene in a woman's personal health picture early enough to help her completely avoid breast cancer -- even if she is at increased risk.

To this end, Pisarska advises all her fertility patients over age 39 to get a mammogram prior to seeking any fertility treatments, or even trying to get pregnant on their own. If there is a strong family history of breast cancer, she recommends mammograms begin even younger.

"I also make sure that every patient knows that when you use fertility drugs, you do experience an increase in estradiol levels on a short term basis, and they may need to pay attention to that in the future," says Pisarska.

For Smith, for any woman who had her first child after age 30 or her last child in her 40s, and particularly if she used fertility drugs to get pregnant, getting a mammogram is a good start. But she also believes it's necessary for these women to join a cancer screening prevention program to monitor and ensure their health.

"Until we have the answers, women themselves must take the initiative and we, as doctors, must give them the opportunity to do so, by encouraging the ultimate use of our screening tools and what we have learned about preventing breast cancer," says Smith. If that can happen, she says, we will go a long way to ensure the health of all women.

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