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Most younger women who want kids after breast cancer are successful, research data shows


(NEW YORK) — Among younger women with breast cancer, it may be possible for many to have a baby after their diagnosis thanks to advances in breast cancer care, new research suggests.

In a study of about 200 women ages 40 and younger with non-metastatic breast cancer who wanted children, roughly three-quarters were able to become pregnant after diagnosis, and about two-thirds had a baby.

The research will be presented on Monday, June 3, at the 2024 ASCO Annual Conference, a major medical conference of the American Society of Clinical Oncology. However, it has not yet been peer-reviewed or published as a full manuscript in a journal.

Doctors say this may give hope to the growing number of younger people being diagnosed with breast cancer who want to preserve their fertility.

“This is indeed great news for young breast cancer survivors,” Dr. Julie R. Gralow, Chief Medical Officer of ASCO and oncologist who specializes in breast cancer, told ABC News. “Achieving a pregnancy after breast cancer diagnosis is both possible and safe.”

For women diagnosed at earlier ages, fertility may be of great concern and importance, but experts point out that in this study, only 16% of women said they desired a baby after their diagnosis.

“I think this may represent the overall reluctance of young women with this diagnosis interrupting their lives at such a young age to pursue pregnancy,” Dr. Julia Foldi, assistant professor of medicine in hematology/oncology, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, told ABC News.

In the study, women with more financial security were more likely to become pregnant, and fertility preservation, such as egg freezing, nearly tripled the odds of having a baby. The older the patient, the less likelihood of having a baby or getting pregnant.

“While we can’t impact the age at diagnosis, we can make sure that all young women diagnosed with breast cancer receive information prior to beginning treatment about options to increase the chance of a future pregnancy, and also have access to those options,” Gralow said.

Doctors hope this research helps counsel women who desire pregnancy after their breast cancer diagnosis and highlights the importance of having access to fertility preservation services, which can be costly.

“Timely access to fertility preservation can be very challenging due to lack of available resources and infrastructure, financial barriers, and much more,” Dr. Kimia Sorouri, research fellow, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, Massachusetts, and one of the study authors told ABC News.

“Ensuring that women have the resources necessary to enable them to benefit from this technology, including insurance coverage for fertility preservation, will go a long way towards ensuring access to care for those women who have yet to complete their reproductive plan,” Dr. Sigal Klipstein, InVia Fertility Specialists in Chicago and former chair of the ACOG Committee on Ethics, told ABC News.

Researchers also found several factors that were not associated with fertility outcomes in this study, including having a history of infertility, never giving birth before diagnosis, tumor characteristics, cancer treatment, race, and ethnicity.

“It is particularly impressive data because almost 70% of the women in this study had received chemotherapy, which can reduce fertility,” Gralow said.

In this study, the typical age at the time of breast cancer diagnosis was 32 years old, and the average time to pregnancy was 4 years after diagnosis. Most of the women in this study were non-Hispanic white and had their breast cancer diagnosed in earlier stages of the disease.

“This should encourage folks to get their screening done and know that if they are diagnosed earlier on, that’s less likely to impact their future fertility goals,” Dr. Elizabeth Langen, associate clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology, University of Michigan Health System, told ABC News.

In guidance by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, women with average risk are now recommended to start breast cancer screening at age 40.

This finalized guidance, in part, reflects a worrying trend of more women being diagnosed with breast cancer at a younger age.

“While this study provides great hope for women with a diagnosis of breast cancer, it is important to be cognizant of the fact that not all women will have success,” Klipstein said. “Expeditious counseling, availability of and access to fertility preservation options are the elements that often make the difference between having or not having the family that women desire.”

Dr. Jade A Cobern, MD, MPH, a licensed and practicing physician board certified in pediatrics and preventive medicine, is a member of the ABC News Medical Unit. 

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