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Recent Studies Show Breast Cancer Survivors Can Have Happy, Healthy Babies

A study from late 2020 reveals that while breast cancer survivors often have a more difficult time getting pregnant, their babies tend to be healthy

September 9, 2021
Allaina Wagner

Main image courtesy of Women Fitness.

As one of the most common types of cancer, breast cancer is diagnosed in about one of every eight women in the United States. Despite the potential physical and emotional impact of the condition, breast cancer survivors can still conceive and have completely healthy children.

Baby booties on woman's stomach
While women can undergo certain cancer treatments like chemotherapy during their pregnancy, doctors advise to hold off on radiation and hormone treatment until the second and third trimesters or until after the baby is born.

Large Meta-Analysis Study Shows Hope for Those Pregnant and Battling Breast Cancer

An analysis of 39 studies indicates little risk for those pregnant and diagnosed with breast cancer

The past couple of decades have seen a trend of women waiting until later in life to have children, attempting to conceive at a higher rate in their 30’s rather than in their 20’s. Because of this shift to growing a family at a later age, women are more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer before they become pregnant. This trend has heightened concern over whether becoming pregnant during or having children after being diagnosed with breast cancer is possible or comes with any long-term effects on the baby-- and recent studies have pointed to some potentially relieving answers.

In a large meta-analysis published in December of 2020, researchers collected data from 39 studies that monitored the health of women who had been pregnant after a diagnosis of breast cancer. Their analysis consisted of evaluating the frequency of pregnancies in women after their cancer diagnosis, the survival rate of the children, and whether they experienced any diseases or complications as newborns. While the results of this evaluation presented some possible roadblocks for women attempting to start a family after being diagnosed with breast cancer, the results of the study are ultimately optimistic.

The study demonstrated that women who had gone through breast cancer were 60 percent less likely to conceive when compared to the general population of women. It is noted in the analysis of the studies that this result is variable and could have been skewed due to some women in the study not attempting to have children after their breast cancer treatment. Regardless, the study shows a trend of decreased likelihood of conceiving in women with breast cancer.

The study also found that pregnant women with breast cancer had 50 percent higher risk for their babies to have a low birth weight. Results also showed that these babies were at 16 percent higher risk of being small for gestational age, 45 percent higher risk for a preterm labor, and 14 percent higher risk for a cesarean section. Despite these increased risks, these potential higher-risk conditions can result in a perfectly healthy baby. It is also important to distinguish that the risk of low birth weight and small gestational age mainly occurred in women who had gone through chemotherapy before their pregnancy, which does not apply to all women who have breast cancer.

The most important takeaway from the study was that there is no significant increase in risk of congenital defects or any other pregnancy and delivery complications. In fact, women who had previously been diagnosed with breast cancer and were able to become pregnant and deliver their child actually saw positive outcomes as a result of the birth.

Out of the women who got pregnant after their cancer diagnosis, there was a 44 percent decrease in their chance of not surviving, and there was a 27 percent decrease in risk of their cancer reoccurring.

The results of the studies further indicated that there were no major negative effects for pregnancies in women with genetic diseases that made them more predisposed to cancer, and also in women who had previously gone through chemotherapy treatment.

The analysis of these studies ultimately indicate hope for women with breast cancer hoping to start or grow their family. This knowledge of the little negative effects of pregnancy during and after pregnancy can be used as an amazing motivating factor for those hoping to become a mother while battling breast cancer.

Parent holding toddler's hand
Some women carry the BRCA gene, which increases the chance of developing breast and ovarian cancers. However, having this gene does not guarantee that a person will be diagnosed with any sort of cancer.

Pregnancy Stories From Breast Cancer Survivors

Accounts from the strong women who battled breast cancer as they were pregnant

While the odds of being diagnosed with breast cancer while pregnant are fairly slim, with a diagnosis only occurring in about one in every 3,000 pregnancies, women should always be aware of these odds. Survivor-moms Paola Chavez and Jessica Purcell never imagined that they would be the women these odds fell on, but their stories presented a happy ending despite their circumstances.

Paola Chavez, a young mother from Mexico, found out that she was pregnant right around the time that she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Moving to Los Angeles for health care, her and her doctors decided that chemotherapy would be her best option for treatment. In relaying her experience, Paola describes that she “was just in shock” and that she “had to make a choice – not only for [herself], but also for [her] unborn son,” trusting her doctors’ advice to begin chemotherapy and that it would lead to her son being as healthy as possible.

After chemotherapy, her son, Azriel Ezra, was born in perfect health. Paola opted to have a double mastectomy shortly after her son’s birth, but the pair is happily growing and recovering together, with Paola’s baby acting as a great motivator for her recovery.

In a similar vein, Jessica Purcell was diagnosed with breast cancer nine weeks into her pregnancy with her second child. Undergoing a left radical mastectomy, surgery to remove lymph nodes and chemotherapy all during her pregnancy, she eventually gave birth to a healthy baby boy, Jameson, whom she named after her grandfather who passed away from cancer when she was younger.

Jessica continued with cancer treatments, including radiation, after the birth of her son and has since had a smooth recovery.

Both Jessica’s and Paola’s stories are not extremely rare, with hundreds of women experiencing pregnancies alongside breast cancer treatment each year and producing fully healthy and happy babies despite their circumstances. A common thread amongst these women is their commitment to fighting their cancer for their babies, following their doctors’ guidance, and remaining optimistic throughout their journey.

Breast cancer ribbon on table
Becoming pregnant while battling breast cancer can be used as a great motivator to continue fighting against the condition.

Both recently published studies and the stories from women go to show that having a baby is absolutely possible and safe while battling breast cancer. While you should always consult a doctor both before and during your pregnancy if you have been diagnosed with breast cancer, rest assured that there is hope for those looking to expand their family despite battling cancer.

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