Data on birth outcome and offspring health after the appearance of breast cancer are limited. The aim of this study was to assess the risk of adverse birth outcomes in women previously treated for invasive breast cancer compared with the general population of mothers.
Methods and Findings
Of all 2,870,932 singleton births registered in the Swedish Medical Birth Registry during 1973–2002, 331 first births following breast cancer surgery—with a mean time to pregnancy of 37 mo (range 7–163)—were identified using linkage with the Swedish Cancer Registry.
Logistic regression analysis was used. The estimates were adjusted for maternal age, parity, and year of delivery. Odds ratios (ORs) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) were used to estimate infant health and mortality, delivery complications, the risk of preterm birth, and the rates of instrumental delivery and cesarean section.
The large majority of births from women previously treated for breast cancer had no adverse events. However, births by women exposed to breast cancer were associated with an increased risk of delivery complications (OR 1.5, 95% CI 1.2–1.9), cesarean section (OR 1.3, 95% CI 1.0–1.7), very preterm birth (<32 wk) (OR 3.2, 95% CI 1.7–6.0), and low birth weight (<1500 g) (OR 2.9, 95% CI 1.4–5.8). A tendency towards an increased risk of malformations among the infants was seen especially in the later time period (1988–2002) (OR 2.1, 95% CI 1.2–3.7).
It is reassuring that births overall were without adverse events, but our findings indicate that pregnancies in previously treated breast cancer patients should possibly be regarded as higher risk pregnancies, with consequences for their surveillance and management.
The large majority of births from women previously treated for breast cancer had no adverse events, but such pregnancies might benefit from increased surveillance and management.
More women of all ages are developing breast cancer than ever before. In the US, one woman in eight will now develop this disease during her lifetime. For most of these women, their breast cancer diagnosis will come late in life, but a fifth of breast cancers are diagnosed before the age of 50. These days, the long-term outlook for women with breast cancer is quite good; 80% of women who receive a diagnosis of breast cancer survive more than five years. These figures, together with a trend towards starting families later in life—since the late 1970s birth rates for women in their late 30s and 40s have more than doubled in the US, and in Sweden the average age for having a first baby is now 29 years—mean that many women who have had breast cancer want to have children. One estimate is that up to 7% of women who are fertile after treatment for breast cancer will later have children.
Why Was This Study Done?
Pregnancy seems to have no adverse affects on women who have had breast cancer—there is no evidence that pregnancy can trigger a relapse. However, little is known about whether the chemotherapy and radiotherapy used to treat breast cancer have any long-lasting effects that might result in a poor birth outcome such as stillbirth, low birth weight, premature delivery, or abnormalities in the baby (congenital abnormalities). In this study, the researchers assessed the risk of adverse birth outcomes in women previously treated for breast cancer in Sweden.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
Nearly three million singleton births that occurred between 1973 and 2002 are recorded in the Swedish Medical Birth Registry. The researchers linked this information with that in the Swedish Cancer Registry to identify 331 first births after treatment for invasive breast cancer (cancer that has spread from where it started to grow in the breast). The birth registry includes details on maternal age and health, child's birth weight, whether the delivery was preterm, and whether the child had any congenital abnormalities, so the researchers were able to compare birth outcomes in these 331 births with those in the general population. They discovered that most births after breast cancer treatment went smoothly. There was no increase in stillbirths, but there were slightly more delivery complications in the women who had had breast cancer than in the general population, and a slight increase in babies born prematurely or with low birth weight. Finally, a few more babies with congenital abnormalities were born to women after breast cancer treatment than to women in the general population.
What Do These Findings Mean?
Overall, these results should reassure women who are thinking about having children after breast cancer about the health of their future offspring. However, they do suggest that these women may need careful monitoring during late pregnancy and delivery. This result was not predicted by the researchers who performed the study. Before starting the study, they thought that there would be no difference in birth outcomes between patients previously treated for breast cancer and the general population. Furthermore, a recently published similar study in Denmark found no increased risk of preterm birth, low birth weight, or congenital abnormalities after breast cancer. Differences between the two countries in the accuracy of their registries or in the use of chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatments may account for this difference in results. Additional studies are now needed in other populations to resolve this discrepancy and to provide more information about how breast cancer treatment might affect birth outcomes. For example, the current study did not provide any information about whether specific chemotherapy regimens or different types of breast cancer might put women at a higher risk of adverse birth outcomes, or whether the time between the cancer diagnosis and treatment and the pregnancy made a difference.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0030336.
MedlinePlus encyclopedia entry on breast cancer
National Cancer Institute information for patients and physicians on breast cancer, including links to pages on breast cancer and pregnancy
Cancer Research UK's information on breast cancer for patients, and statistics on breast cancer in the UK
• Wikipedia page on breast cancer (note: Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit)
Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists guidelines for physicians on pregnancy and breast cancer