Do Fertility Treatments Cause Breast Cancer?

Experts weigh in on this important question and discuss who should have a mammogram before getting pregnant.
Talking to doctor

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Between 2007 and 2011, two high-profile women -- Elizabeth Edwards, the late wife of former senator John Edwards, and E! News host, Giuliana Rancic, 37, announced breast cancer diagnoses after having undergone fertility treatments. The timing between their treatments and their diagnoses have caused some people to wonder whether there's a link between IVF and breast cancer, but experts say there is no known connection between the two at this time.

"IVF drugs do not cause cancer," says Cynthia Austin, M.D., Director of the In-Vitro Fertilization Program at the Cleveland Clinic.

Even women with risk factors for breast cancer can probably still undergo fertility treatments, says Shayma Master Kazmi, M.D., a medical oncologist and hematologist with the Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Philadelphia. "Since there is no clear link between IVF and breast cancer, we do not recommend against IVF in those women," she explains. "Every woman needs to discuss her individual risks and benefits with her provider."

The average American woman has a 12 percent risk of developing breast cancer in her lifetime, Dr. Kazmi says. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that women in general start getting yearly mammograms once they turn 40. But if you have a personal or family history of the disease, or other risk factors, such as obesity, it's important to talk to your doctor before you try to conceive.

"We know that pregnancy does not cause breast cancer," Dr. Kazmi says. "However, there is some data that if there already is a tumor and it is estrogen-positive, its growth may be accelerated during pregnancy."

If you're undergoing IVF, your doctor will probably recommend that you get a mammogram, even if you don't have any major risk factors for breast cancer, Dr. Austin says. "Sometimes women get so focused on their fertility when trying to conceive that they tend to forget their Pap smear, their mammogram, their dental checkup, and other general health care," she explains. "A woman's overall health affects pregnancy, so part of the fertility team's job is to remind women they still need to take care of those things."

Copyright © 2011 Meredith Corporation.

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