With one out of eight women being diagnosed with breast cancer in the United States in their lifetime, the fear of increasing the risk of developing this type of cancer is an understandable one. However, studies have recently shown data that suggests little to no connection between undergoing fertility treatments and an increase in breast cancer development in women.
The Confusing Connection Between Breast Cancer and Fertility Treatments
Why many assume fertility treatments lead to a higher risk of breast cancer
The myth of fertility treatments leading to the development of breast cancer likely stems from the known link between high estrogen and progesterone levels and hormone-sensitive breast cancers. These types of breast cancers are activated when hormones bind to them, causing changes in the expression of certain genes, and stimulating cell growth as a result.
Many fertility treatments, including IVF and other ART treatments, involve patients taking hormone medications to stimulate the thickening of the uterine lining and improve their chances at conceiving as a result. These hormone treatments often include forms of estrogen and progesterone, which could potentially contribute to the swift production of breast cancer cells. However, those who are undergoing or are considering fertility treatments should not necessarily turn away from those treatments because of this connection. Even those who have a history of breast cancer or are battling breast cancer can undergo these fertility treatments, but it is vital for your doctor to monitor hormone levels consistently.
The myth of the relationship between breast cancer and fertility treatments stems from the belief that increasing estrogen levels through fertility treatments will lead to the production of cancerous cells, but this is uncertain. Research has supported that increasing estrogen cannot turn non-cancerous cells into cancerous cells, but it can affect already-cancerous breast cancer cells by increasing their production.
While the connection between fertility treatments and breast cancer development is complicated and unclear, some recent studies have pointed to a more coherent answer.
What the Studies Have Shown so Far
Recent studies have had results that show a clearer relationship between breast cancer and fertility treatments
In a 27-year study involving 1.8 million women undergoing fertility treatments, the resulting data suggested no increase in the risk of breast cancer over the subjects’ lifetime. Conducted by King’s College London, the researchers tracked subjects who had undergone a variety of fertility treatments, including ones that ranged from the use of hormone medication to promote the release of eggs to IVF and other more complex procedures.
The retrospective study analyzed data from 1990 to January of 2020, followed women of reproductive age and analyzed their likelihood of developing breast cancer during and after their fertility treatments. While the study showed that there was little connection between fertility treatments and the subjects’ chances of developing breast cancer, more research will need to be conducted to confirm these promising findings.
Another smaller study, published in 2014, found that amongst their 12,193 female subjects, there was no confirmed link between fertility treatments and breast cancer development. While this subject was smaller than the one previously mentioned, there are many studies just like this one that have produced inconclusive, but assuring results. Generally, recent studies have pointed to there not being an obvious and dangerous connection between undergoing fertility treatment and an increased risk for breast cancer, which is a potentially relieving result.
While these results may feel like a breath of fresh air for many women attempting to conceive, it’s important to be aware of other risk factors that can contribute to both breast cancer and infertility.
Minimizing Risk for Breast Cancer Development and Infertility
What you can do to lower your chances of developing breast cancer and infertility
Risk for developing breast cancer increases significantly as you age, with about 80% of women who are diagnosed each year being 45 or older. Risk of infertility also increases significantly as you age, with it becoming exponentially more difficult to conceive as you age past 35.
The connection between middle age and its role in causing infertility and breast cancer development may point to another reason for the myth of fertility treatment causing breast cancer. As women age and utilize fertility treatments to start a family, their chances of developing breast cancer increase significantly primarily due to their age and not because of the treatments.
Despite this increased risk, there are a few ways you can take control of your susceptibility to breast cancer and fertility issues. By maintaining a balanced diet and consistently exercising, you can lower your risk of developing breast cancer and possibly experience higher chances of conceiving. Limiting or completely cutting out alcoholic drinks can also improve these aspects.
Ultimately, if you do develop breast cancer or have issues with conceiving, know that you are not alone and there are millions of women experiencing the same difficulties. It does not make you less of a woman, and many of the factors that go into developing breast cancer or infertility are uncontrollable.
If you are hoping to start a family but need to undergo fertility treatments in order to do so, do not be turned away by the risk of developing breast cancer. However, you should always be sure to consult your doctor to figure out a plan that works for you and any risks that may be associated. Most studies have pointed to little evidence supporting the connection between the two, so you can rest assured that you are not putting yourself at risk by using fertility treatments.
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