According to results recently published in the British Medical Journal, optimal timing of pregnancy following the diagnosis of early breast cancer is being questioned.

Early breast cancer refers to cancer that has not spread from the breast to distant sites in the body. It is usually recommended that women with breast cancer wait two years after the diagnosis of breast cancer to conceive. The basis, however, for this recommendation in women with localized breast cancer who have completed therapy is unclear.

Researchers from Australia recently conducted a clinical study to determine the effect of timing of pregnancy following breast cancer diagnosis and treatment on pregnancy outcomes and overall survival. The study included 2,539 women in Western Australia who were between the ages of 15 and 44 years and had been diagnosed with breast cancer between 1982 and 2000.

Of the women in the study, 123 became pregnant following diagnosis of and treatment for breast cancer. Researchers reported the following findings:

• 54% of women conceived in less than two years after their diagnosis of breast cancer.

• Pregnancy was associated with an improved survival, which was significant among women who waited two years to conceive.

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• Overall survival of women who conceived was 92% at five years and 86% at ten years.

• There were no major differences in outcomes between early and late pregnancies.

The researchers concluded that for women diagnosed with early breast cancer who are not undergoing chemotherapy, “conception six months after treatment is unlikely to reduce survival.” Patients who have been diagnosed with early breast cancer and wish to become pregnant may wish to discuss their individual risks and benefits of timing of conception with their physician.

Reference: Ives A, Saunders C, Bulsara et al. Pregnancy after breast cancer: population based study. British Medical Journal. 2007;334:194-200.

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