Can You Safely Stop Longterm Breast Cancer Therapy To Get Pregnant?

Undergoing long-term treatment for breast cancer can take a toll on your quality of life and bring with it a lot of difficult questions about future experiences. Treatment for breast cancer can instigate anxiety for a multitude of reasons, bringing with it excessive worrying, questioning, and restlessness, according to WebMD. While long-term breast cancer treatment can induce anxiety and fear, there may be some good news for women hoping to become pregnant after the cessation of long-term therapy treatment.

Not all forms of breast cancer are the same, nor are the therapy options for treatment. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) define breast cancer as a disease that occurs when cells grow rapidly, a process otherwise known as metastasis, and forms cellular damage posing a threat to the breast tissue and the overall health of the body. In addition to diagnosing a stage of breast cancer with the numerical stages of cancer, which range from one to four in respective order of severity, there are two primary forms of breast cancer often experienced. Invasive lobular carcinoma, for starters, is a type of breast cancer that forms when the lobules of the breast develop cancer cells and ultimately spread to other tissue in the breast. Invasive ductal carcinoma similarly begins with cancerous cells initially creating in breast or nipple ducts, then spreading to other body parts.

There's groundbreaking research

Depending on the type of cancer diagnosis and treatment recommended, there may be opportunities for women to become pregnant following long-term breast cancer therapy. NBC News reports that approximately six out of 10 women who undergo treatment for breast cancer during their childbearing years, defined as being 45 years of age or younger, experience anxiety and fear about not being able to conceive and have a successful pregnancy following treatment. While approximately 12.5% of women will be diagnosed with breast cancer during their lives, just under 10% of all breast cancer diagnoses are made in women of childbearing age, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In fact, the majority of breast cancer cases occur in women over the age of 45.

However, the first POSITIVE study to determine the possibility of women who have undergone long-term breast cancer therapy becoming pregnant was presented at the 2022 San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium and found that women of childbearing age can potentially safely stop treatment for a maximum of 24 months (via American Association for Cancer Research). The study examined 518 women who had been treated with endocrine therapy and were below the age of 43 at the time. The women studied had been in therapy for a minimum of 18 months at the time of cessation with the intent to become pregnant.

The amount of time off matters

When it comes to stopping long-term breast cancer therapy, there's a limit on the amount of time away from a treatment that has been found to be safe, per NBC News. To prevent breast cancer from recurring, medical professionals recommend that women take no more than two years off of therapy. After 24 months away from endocrine therapy, the rate of breast cancer returning begins to increase and poses a greater threat to a woman's well-being. The specific therapy observed in the study is generally advised to be undertaken for up to a decade for women with breast cancer tumors driven by the hormones progesterone or estrogen. The length of recommended therapy is intended to create an extended decrease of the hormone in a woman's body, thus treating the hormone-driven tumor. Given that endocrine therapy is a long-term treatment and can have side effects that impact fertility, many women express hesitation at starting or continuing treatment because of their desire to become pregnant. With the new study, the findings show that it can be safe to begin endocrine treatment and then take up to two years off of therapy to safely carry a pregnancy.

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center states that the babies to whom women who have undergone breast cancer therapy give birth aren't at increased risk of birth defects or other health concerns. Nevertheless, always follow the recommendations and advice of your healthcare provider when deciding to stop breast cancer therapy.