For women who have had breast cancer, a common fear is whether getting pregnant could cause their cancer to come back. A new study out this week offers hopeful news about breast cancer and pregnancy.
At 24 years old, Erin Ripplinger was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer. Because she was so young, her cancer was caught late. Ripplinger had chemo and beat her cancer but the thought of becoming pregnant scared her.
"I remember being that young thinking ‘oh my gosh, I can’t be normal like all my friends that are having kids. You become fearful of it like you can’t do it," Ripplinger says.
Women’s hormone levels affect many types of breast cancer. Cancer treatments act by lowering estrogen levels, so there’s a fear that the increasing hormone levels during pregnancy could bring cancer back.
But, a new study presented this week from the Institut Jules Bordet in Brussels mitigates that fear. For ten years the survey followed over 1,200 women who had been diagnosed with breast cancer. A quarter of the patients became pregnant after their cancer. After comparing those who had kids and those who didn’t, researchers found no connection between pregnancy and recurring breast cancer.
Lynn Henry is a Medical Oncologist at the Huntsman Cancer Institute. She says previous studies on this topic were smaller or lasted for a shorter period of time.
"We didn’t really have one large study looking at this and so it actually does contribute a lot to our knowledge," Henry says.
Breast cancer rates in Utah are fairly average. But because the population is young compared to other parts of the country, Henry says women often deal with the question of pregnancy after cancer.
"Our population is skewed to having a lot more younger women so whenever we do have similar rates of breast cancer we actually have a number of women who are still very interested in becoming pregnant," Henry says.
These new results, she says, are reassuring for a question she deals with on a regular basis.