Pregnancy and breast cancer survival
Because of the high hormone levels related to pregnancy, there has been concern that pregnancy after breast cancer could affect survival. However, the studies done to date show having a child after treatment does not lower a woman’s chances for long-term survival [96-98].
One large study even found women who had a child after breast cancer treatment had better overall survival than women who did not have a child after treatment . Women who become pregnant after completing treatment for breast cancer may be healthier than those who do not. For this reason, the survival benefit found in studies may be limited to these healthier women .
Pregnancy after treatment
If you wish to have a child after breast cancer treatment ends, talk to your health care provider (and if possible, a fertility specialist) before you begin treatment to discuss your options. Meeting with a fertility specialist as early as possible (ideally before surgery) will give you the widest range of options . Your provider (or a fertility specialist) can also discuss the best timing of a pregnancy based on your treatment.
Even though pregnancy after treatment does not appear to lower survival, there are many issues for survivors to consider when thinking about having a child. Some of these issues are described below.
Ultimately, having a child is a personal decision. Your family and friends, health care provider, counselor, clergy or support group can help you think through the issues so you can decide what is right for you.
Some survivors with a strong family history of breast cancer may have concerns about passing on an inherited genetic mutation that increases risk. And, some women with a high risk of recurrence or living with metastatic breast cancer may worry about having a child for fear they may not live long enough to raise the child.
If you have these concerns, it may be helpful to talk to your health care provider and to seek support from your family, friends and other co-survivors.
Learn more about inherited genetic mutations and breast cancer risk.
Some treatments for breast cancer can impact your ability to breastfeed. If you have had a lumpectomy (also called breast conserving surgery) plus radiation or a mastectomy, breastfeeding from the untreated breast should be normal.
Breastfeeding from the treated breast following lumpectomy plus radiation may be difficult. Both the surgery and radiation therapy can harm tissue needed for breastfeeding. While feeding from the treated breast is possible (and the milk is safe for the baby), it is not common and the amount of milk produced may be greatly reduced [100-102].
Loss of fertility
A main concern for young cancer survivors is loss of fertility. A potential side effect of chemotherapy is early menopause. The older a woman is, the more likely that chemotherapy will bring on menopause. Early menopause ends a woman's chance for a natural pregnancy. This can be very difficult for women who had hoped to have a child after completing treatment.
Having a child after breast cancer treatment
If you wish to have a child after treatment, talk to your health care provider (and if possible, a fertility specialist) before making treatment decisions and discuss your options. Meeting with a fertility specialist as early as possible (ideally before surgery) offers the widest range of options. These include storing embryos before treatment begins and using a drug during therapy that may help protect the ovaries from damage.
Other options include adoption and egg donation.
Learn more about fertility options.
Financial assistance for fertility services
Insurance coverage for fertility services varies widely from state to state. Check with your insurance provider to find out which procedures are covered in your policy.
Organizations such as Fertile Hope offer financial aid when insurance providers do not cover fertility services.
*Please note, the information provided within Komen Perspectives articles is only current as of the date of posting. Therefore, some information may be out of date at this time.