Breast Cancer Patients May Have Better Odds if They're Pregnant

Filed under: News, In The News, Weird But True, New In Pop Culture, Health, Research Reveals

pregnant woman doctor picture

Getting breast cancer when you're pregnant isn't a death sentence. Credit: Jose Luis Pelaez/Getty Images

You're six months pregnant when you find a lump in your breast. The doctor tells you it's cancer.

Believe it or not, the news could be worse.

Learning you have cancer, of course, is never good news. But if you're going to get breast cancer, pregnancy may strangely be the best time to have it.

Researchers in Texas followed 225 women treated at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston between 1989 and 2009 and found 74 percent of the women diagnosed with breast cancer during pregnancy are still alive five years after their diagnosis.

The survival drops to 55.7 percent among breast cancer patients who were not pregnant when they were diagnosed.

The Los Angeles Times reports longer-term survival rates might also be higher among pregnant cancer patients, but researchers tell the paper those results are less clear than the five-year statistics.

The researchers, led by Dr. Richard L. Theriault, presented their findings Oct. 1 at the American Society of Clinical Oncology's meeting in Washington, D.C.

Hopefully, Theriault tells the Times, the study will help allay women's fears that pregnancy hormones accelerate breast cancer. Until very recently, he adds, pregnant women who got breast cancer were urged to get abortions or wait until giving birth to begin aggressive treatment.

The cancer, women were told, also put their unborn babies at risk.

According to the Times, Theriault was among the researchers who offered strong evidence in 1999 that breast cancer doesn't harm developing fetuses. So now, doctors can begin chemotherapy as soon as the first trimester of pregnancy is over and resume treatment with radiation, follow-on chemotherapy or surgery after the baby's birth.

The new study is as yet unpublished and considered preliminary, but Dr. Jennifer Litton of M.D. Anderson Cancer Center tells the Times the results are nonetheless astounding.

Litton adds researchers hoped to find pregnant breast cancer patients have at least the same survival odds as nonpregnant patients. To find they have even better odds is exciting, she says.

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