Many women are able to become pregnant after treatment for breast cancer. However, some treatments make it harder to get pregnant. If you think you may want to have children one day, or just want to keep your options open, the best time to talk to your doctor about fertility is before you begin breast cancer treatment.
Breast cancer is most common in older women. But if you are a younger woman who has had breast cancer, you might have questions about how breast cancer could affect your ability to have children and whether there are any extra risks.
Does breast cancer or its treatment affect my ability to have a baby?
Some treatments for breast cancer may affect a woman’s fertility (ability to have a baby). For example, chemotherapy for breast cancer might damage the ovaries, which can sometimes cause immediate or delayed infertility. Still, many women are able to become pregnant after treatment. The best time to talk with your doctor about fertility is before starting breast cancer treatment. For more about how cancer treatment can affect fertility, see Fertility and Women With Cancer.
Could pregnancy make it more likely my breast cancer will come back?
Many breast cancers are sensitive to estrogen, so there has been concern that for women who have had breast cancer, the high hormone levels that result from a pregnancy might increase the chance of the cancer coming back. Studies have shown, though, that pregnancy does not increase the risk of the cancer coming back after successful treatment.
There’s also no proof that breastfeeding after breast cancer treatment increases the risk of recurrence. In fact, some research suggests having a history of breastfeeding might actually lower the risk of the cancer coming back.
How long after breast cancer treatment should I wait before becoming pregnant?
If you want to have children, many doctors advise breast cancer survivors to wait at least 2 years after all treatment has finished before trying to get pregnant. The best length of time to wait is not clear, but 2 years is thought to be enough time to find any early return of the cancer, which could affect your decision to become pregnant. Keep in mind that this advice is not based on data from any clinical trials. And some breast cancers can come back after the 2-year mark, so every case is different. Your decision should be based on many things, including your age, desire for more pregnancies, type of breast cancer, and the risk of the cancer coming back early.
If I get pregnant, would my history of breast cancer put my baby at risk?
There is no proof that a woman’s past breast cancer has any direct effect on her baby. Researchers have found no increased rate of birth defects or other long-term health concerns in children born to women who have had breast cancer.
Could breast cancer treatment affect my unborn baby?
If you are still getting any type of treatment for breast cancer, including chemotherapy, hormone therapy, or targeted therapy, talk to your doctor before trying to become pregnant. These drugs could affect a growing fetus, so it is safer to wait to get pregnant until all treatment is complete. It’s also important to remember that stopping treatment early can increase the risk of the cancer growing or coming back. See “Pregnancy During Breast Cancer” for more information.
Can I breastfeed after breast cancer treatment?
If you have had breast surgery and/or radiation, you may have problems breastfeeding from the affected breast. Studies have shown reduced milk production in that breast as well as structural changes that can make it difficult and painful for the baby to latch onto the breast. Still, many women are able to breastfeed.
If you are still taking any medicines to treat your breast cancer (such as tamoxifen), it’s very important to talk with your doctor before trying to breastfeed. Some drugs can enter the breast milk and might affect the baby.
Talk to your doctor
If you have or have had breast cancer and are thinking about having children, talk with your doctor about how treatment could affect your chances for pregnancy. This discussion should also cover the risk of the cancer coming back. In many cases, counseling can help you sort through the choices that come with surviving breast cancer and planning a pregnancy.
Last Revised: 05/04/2016