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Is it safe to get pregnant after breast cancer?

Dr. Judith Reichman on when and if it's okay for a woman diagnosed with breast cancer to try to  have a baby.
/ Source: TODAY

Q: I was diagnosed with breast cancer in my late 30s. I still want to have another baby. How long should I wait to have one to be safe?

A: A recent study in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) looked at the survival rates of women between 15 and 44 years old who were diagnosed with breast cancer and subsequently got pregnant. It included 2,539 women, and of these women five percent had at least one pregnancy after being diagnosed. In the past most physicians have told women with breast cancer to wait two to three years after diagnosis before becoming pregnant or, to be safe, not to get pregnant at all. But, as usual, some of that advice was based on anecdotal evidence and not the long-term follow-up of appropriate numbers of women that can give the validity of “evidence-based medicine.”            

This new study supports a portion of our old advice. It found that there was a trend of reduced survival for those women who conceived in the first six months after diagnosis. However, women who waited at least two years to conceive had improved survival rates compared to the women who didn’t conceive. These results don’t mean that getting pregnant after a breast cancer diagnosis has a protective effect. They probably simply indicate that the women who “made it” through two years without recurrence, and who completed the appropriate therapy (in most cases radiation and chemo), then had a better prognosis than the women who chose not to conceive.

Regardless of the reasons why, this is good news for women who get to that two-year mark without recurrence and want to get on with their reproductive lives. Most recurrences occur in the first few years after diagnosis, so if a woman is cancer-free during this period of time, her chances of “being there” as her progeny grow up are good. So get the therapy you need now and wait those two years ... then go for it!

Dr. Reichman’s Bottom Line: Pregnancy itself does not seem to have a negative effect on the course of breast cancer, but it's wise to wait two years subsequent to diagnosis and therapy before trying to conceive.

Dr. Judith Reichman, the TODAY show's medical contributor on women's health, has practiced obstetrics and gynecology for more than 20 years. You will find many answers to your questions in her latest book, "Slow Your Clock Down: The Complete Guide to a Healthy, Younger You," which is now available in paperback. It is published by William Morrow, a division of .

PLEASE NOTE: The information in this column should not be construed as providing specific medical advice, but rather to offer readers information to better understand their lives and health. It is not intended to provide an alternative to professional treatment or to replace the services of a physician.