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Keywords:

  • breast carcinoma;
  • childbearing;
  • survival;
  • pregnancy

Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. MATERIALS AND METHODS
  4. RESULTS
  5. DISCUSSION
  6. REFERENCES

BACKGROUND

Many young patients with breast carcinoma have not started, or completed, their desired families. How childbearing after a diagnosis of breast carcinoma affects survival is of importance to these women and their families. The authors measured relative mortality among young patients with breast carcinoma with and without births occurring after diagnosis.

METHODS

The authors conducted a cohort study using data from three population-based cancer registries in the U.S. (Seattle, Detroit, and Los Angeles), linked to birth certificate data in each state. Four hundred thirty-eight women younger than 45 years of age with primary invasive breast carcinoma were identified as having births after diagnosis. In addition, 2775 comparison women, matched on the basis of age at the time of diagnosis, race/ethnicity, diagnosis year, disease stage, and presence of previous nonbreast primary tumors, were identified among those with breast carcinoma without births after diagnosis. Relative mortality was assessed using multivariable statistical methods.

RESULTS

After adjustment for stage of disease, age at diagnosis, study region, diagnosis year, and race/ethnicity, women with births occurring 10 months or more after diagnosis had a significantly decreased risk of dying (relative Risk [RR] = 0.54, 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.41–0.71) compared to women without subsequent births. Women pregnant at the time of diagnosis had a mortality rate similar to those who did not give birth (RR = 1.10, 95% CI, 0.80–1.60).

CONCLUSIONS

The results of the current study, in light of growing evidence from other studies using various methods, may provide some reassurance to young women with breast carcinoma that subsequent childbearing is unlikely to increase their risk of mortality. Cancer 2003;98:1131–40. © 2003 American Cancer Society.

DOI 10.1002/cncr.11634

The incidence of breast carcinoma among women younger than 45 years of age is increasing1, 2 and young women appear to have relatively poor survival.3, 4 The prognosis may be particularly poor for young women who are diagnosed within a relatively short period after a birth.5–7 Although recent epidemiologic studies generally suggest no increased risk of mortality associated with childbearing after a breast carcinoma diagnosis,8–10 evaluation of relative mortality among women with different characteristics such as age at diagnosis, first course of therapy, race/ethnicity, lymph node status, and tumor size may provide a more complete understanding of the relation among groups of women with different disease or other characteristics. As many young breast carcinoma survivors may not yet have started, or completed, their desired families, the decision whether to become pregnant after treatment is of great importance to these women, their families, and physicians. Using data from three large population-based cancer registries, we evaluated the effects of childbearing after diagnosis on survival among young women with breast carcinoma overall and among selected subgroups.

MATERIALS AND METHODS

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. MATERIALS AND METHODS
  4. RESULTS
  5. DISCUSSION
  6. REFERENCES

Subject Identification

Human subject protection committee approval was received by the appropriate institutions and from each state's Department of Health before the conduct of the current study. Data from three population-based cancer registries participating in the Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) program of the National Cancer Institute were used to identify study subjects. These registries, located in Seattle, Detroit, and Los Angeles, perform active surveillance and lifelong follow-up of incident cancer cases occurring in each region. Registry activities in Seattle cover more than 3.3 million residents living in the 13 counties of western Washington State. The Los Angeles County Registry covers 9.2 million residents in California and registry activities in Detroit provide surveillance for a three-county area surrounding the city, with a population base of nearly 4.1 million residents. Routine monitoring of registry data for accuracy and completeness of coverage is conducted by the SEER program. Data available for each subject included demographic information (date of birth, age at diagnosis, race/ethnicity), tumor characteristics (date of diagnosis, primary site, histologic type, SEER summary stage [coded as local, regional, distant, and unknown in the SEER Coding Manual, 1997]), and initial course of treatment. The registries routinely obtain vital status information for cases in their areas by linkage with state death certificates and drivers' license data tapes and via contact with patients' physicians of record and/or hospital tumor registrars.

All women younger than 45 years of age at the time of diagnosis with primary invasive breast carcinoma, diagnosed during the years 1980–1993 (in Detroit and Los Angeles) and 1980–1994 (in Seattle) were identified. This included 3925 women in Seattle, 4496 women in Detroit, and 6962 women in Los Angeles. Identification of women with births occurring after their breast carcinoma diagnoses was conducted by linkage of registry and vital records data. Birth certificate records for the years 1982–1993 and 1980–1994 were obtained from the Departments of Health in California and Washington states, respectively. (Before 1982, California birth certificates did not contain the parents' names. Therefore, records linkage was not possible for these years. Because of this, 222 women diagnosed during 1980–1981 in the Los Angeles registry were excluded from further analyses.) In California and Washington, the linkage of registry to birth certificate data was conducted by registry-affiliated study staff. Michigan registry data were linked to birth data for 1980–1994 by the Michigan State Department of Health. For each eligible woman with breast carcinoma, the diagnosis year and subsequent years were screened for her live births. If a woman was known to have died based on current registry data, the birth certificates were screened from the year of diagnosis to the date of death. In this manner, women with live births after their diagnoses of breast carcinoma were identified in each region.

For each breast carcinoma case with a subsequent live birth, we sought to identify 12 comparison subjects from among women without births after diagnosis in each region, matched based on age at diagnosis, race/ethnicity, diagnosis year (1980–1984, 1985–1989, 1990–1994), disease stage, and the presence of a previous nonbreast primary tumor. All potential comparison candidates with a specific set of criteria matching a profile for a set of women with births were identified. A comparison subject was selected randomly from this group for each “exposed” woman matching these characteristics. Random selection rotated among all women within each set of characteristics and continued until the pool of comparison candidates was depleted, or women with births had 12 matched comparison subjects, whichever occurred first. To be eligible, comparison women must have been known not to have died by the date their matching subjects gave birth. For 39 women for whom no potential comparison candidate was found using this procedure, a comparison subject was identified on a case-by-case basis by reviewing each woman's demographic and disease characteristics and relaxing a single matching criterion (usually race/ethnicity).

Women pregnant at diagnosis may have relatively poor survival compared with women who are not pregnant. For this reason, subjects were categorized on the basis of whether they were pregnant at the time of their diagnosis with breast carcinoma. Women with live births occurring 10 or more months after diagnosis were categorized as having pregnancies conceived after their diagnosis with breast carcinoma. Data for these women and their comparison subjects were analyzed separately from those for women with births occurring within 10 months of their diagnoses.

Statistical Analysis

Cox proportional hazards modeling11 was used to estimate the relative risk (RR) of dying for women who had children after diagnosis compared with women who did not. Follow-up was accrued for all subjects from the date of diagnosis, with left truncation of subjects' survival times occurring at the date of a woman's first live birth after diagnosis, and at a similar date for her comparison subjects in the calculation of RR estimates. Follow-up information from each registry through March 1999 was obtained for each subject. The date of death or last follow-up by the registry was used to count follow-up time in months since diagnosis. The median follow-up times for women with and without births less than 10 months after diagnosis were 55 months (range, 2–199 months) and 62 months (range, 6–107 months), respectively. The median follow-up times for women with and without births 10 months or more after diagnosis were 105 months (range, 16–203 months) and 99 months (range, 12–214 months), respectively. Risk-set stratification was used to account for the matched set number and adjustment for potentially confounding variables was conducted by their inclusion in the regression model. The potentially confounding variables were age at diagnosis (continuous), year of diagnosis (1980–1984, 1985–1989, 1990–1994), stage at diagnosis (local, regional, distant, unknown), presence of a previous nonbreast primary tumor (no other primary tumor/other nonbreast primary tumor present before breast carcinoma diagnosis/other nonbreast tumor diagnosed in the interval between diagnosis and birth/other nonbreast tumor diagnosed after birth), and race/ethnicity. Lymph node status and first course of therapy were also evaluated for their possible effects.

RESULTS

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. MATERIALS AND METHODS
  4. RESULTS
  5. DISCUSSION
  6. REFERENCES

Of the 15,161 women younger than 45 years of age at diagnosis with primary invasive breast carcinoma identified during the study period, 438 (3%) subsequently gave birth to a live born infant. The proportion of women with births did not vary by region. Of those with births in each region, 73–79% gave birth at least 10 months after their diagnosis with breast carcinoma, indicating pregnancies conceived after the diagnosis date. The mean age at diagnosis of patients with breast carcinoma in each region who subsequently gave birth ranged from 31.1 years (± a standard error [SE] of 4.7) in Detroit to 32.3 years (± SE 4.0) in Los Angeles (data not shown). The majority of women (56–63%) had local stage disease and few women (ranging from 2% in Seattle to 5% in Los Angeles) had distant metastases. About 16% of all subjects were African-American (4% in Seattle, 33% in Detroit, and 13% in Los Angeles). Five percent were of Asian ethnicity or countries of origin (Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, Korean, Vietnamese).

A mean of seven comparison subjects were identified for each woman with a birth occurring 10 or more months after diagnosis and a mean of six comparison subjects were identified for women with births occurring less than 10 months after diagnosis. About one-third of women in each group had 12 comparison subjects. Although the majority of comparison subjects (90% and 82% of those for women with births 10 or more months and less than 10 months after diagnosis, respectively) were matched within 1 year of age at diagnosis, the varying number of comparison subjects for each exposed woman gives the appearance of disparate ages at diagnosis (Table 1). Women with live births occurring 10 or more months after diagnosis were somewhat younger, in general, than women with births occurring less than 10 months after diagnosis and they had less severe disease. Distant metastases were present in less than 1% of women with births occurring 10 months or more after diagnosis compared with 12% of women with births occurring less than 10 months after diagnosis. Only two women with births had other, nonbreast primary tumors before their diagnosis with breast carcinoma. One had a birth occurring less than 10 months after diagnosis and the other had a birth occurring 10 or more months after diagnosis. Five women with births occurring 10 months or more after diagnosis had other, nonbreast primary tumors diagnosed after their diagnoses with breast carcinoma, but before giving birth.

Table 1. Characteristics of Women with Primary Breast Carcinoma Diagnosed 1980–1994 with and without Live Births after Diagnosis
CharacteristicsLive birth occurring < 10 mos after diagnosisLive birth occurring ≥ 10 mos after diagnosis
Live birth (n = 109)No live birth (n = 687)Live birth (n = 329)No live birth (n = 2088)
No.%No.%No.%No.%
Age at diagnosis (yr.)        
 < 2521.80113.3160.8
 25–292018.3405.89729.526112.5
 30–344339.521831.714945.3101948.8
 35–393935.837354.36419.569233.1
 40–4454.6568.282.41004.8
Diagnosis year        
 1980–19842220.213018.910832.867332.2
 1985–19894642.223634.416249.396046.0
 1990–19944137.632146.75917.945521.8
Race        
 White8578.062090.324273.6175684.1
 African-American1513.8568.15617.026012.5
 Asian65.550.7164.9311.5
 Other21.860.9103.0301.4
 Unknown10.9051.5110.5
Stage        
 Local4945.033749.120963.5133063.7
 Regional4440.331445.710632.272234.6
 Distant1311.9334.820.620.1
 Unknown32.830.4123.7341.6
Tumor size (cm)        
 < 21211.018727.27723.448923.4
 ≥ 26055.130344.112738.687541.9
 Diffuse/unknown3733.919728.712538.072434.7
Lymph node status        
 Negative3733.928341.213741.693044.5
 Positive4339.523333.97723.456627.1
 Unknown2926.617124.911535.059228.4

Risk of Mortality Associated with Childbirth 10 Months or More after Diagnosis

After adjustment for stage of disease and age at diagnosis, study region, diagnosis year, and race/ethnicity, women with births occurring 10 months or more after a breast carcinoma diagnosis had a decreased risk of dying (RR = 0.54; 95% confidence interval [95% CI], 0.41–0.71), relative to women without subsequent births (Table 2). (Unless otherwise indicated, all estimates are adjusted for age at diagnosis, diagnosis year, race/ethnicity, study region, and stage of disease.) A decreased risk was observed both among women with local disease at diagnosis (RR = 0.59; 95% CI, 0.40–0.89) and among women with regional disease at diagnosis (RR = 0.54; 95% CI, 0.37–0.78). The risk of mortality associated with a live birth occurring 10 months or more after diagnosis for women younger than 35 years of age at diagnosis was 0.55 (95% CI, 0.40–0.74), but did not differ significantly from unity among women 35 years or older at diagnosis (RR = 0.83; 95% CI, 0.47–1.5). Among white women, the risk of dying associated with having a live birth occurring 10 months or more after diagnosis was 0.48 (95% CI, 0.34–0.67). Our ability to evaluate the relation within other race/ethnicity groups was limited by small numbers of subjects. However, among African-American women, the risk was 0.77 (95 % CI, 0.45–1.3). Among Asian women, all three deaths occurred among women without births.

Table 2. Relative Risk of Mortality Associated with Live Birth ≥ 10 Months after Primary Breast Carcinoma Diagnosis in Women Younger than 45 Years
CharacteristicsWomen at riskWomen-years at riskaTotal deaths (%)Relative risk of mortality (95% CI)
  • 95% CI: 95% confidence interval.

  • a

    Woman-years computed from date of childbirth.

  • b

    Adjusted for stage, age at diagnosis, study region, diagnosis year category, and race.

  • c

    Exact relative risk and 95% confidence limits.

All births (≥ 10 mos after diagnosis)    
 Women without births200210,485532 (26.6)1.0 (referent)
 Women with births328185162 (18.9)0.54 (0.41–0.71)b
Local disease at diagnosis    
 Women without births12787160231 (18.1)1.0 (referent)
 Women with births208119028 (13.5)0.59 (0.40–0.89)b
Regional disease at diagnosis    
 Women without births6973214288 (41.3)1.0 (referent)
 Women with births10660231 (29.3)0.54 (0.37–0.78)b
Age < 35 yrs at diagnosis    
 Women without births12395990368 (29.7)1.0 (referent)
 Women with births256144149 (19.1)0.55 (0.40–0.74)b
Age ≥ 35 yrs at diagnosis    
 Women without births7634495164 (21.5)1.0 (referent)
 Women with births7241013 (18.1)0.83 (0.47–1.5)b
White women    
 Women without births16898917440 (26.1)1.0 (referent)
 Women with births242138139 (16.1)0.48 (0.34–0.67)b
African-American women    
 Women without births252123178 (31.0)1.0 (referent)
 Women with births5530218 (32.7)0.77 (0.45–1.3)b
Asian women    
 Women without births291243 (10.3)1.0 (referent)
 Women with births16840 (0.0)0 (0–3.6)c
Lymph node positive    
 Women without births5502404220 (40.0)1.0 (referent)
 Women with births7736825 (32.5)0.65 (0.42–0.99)b
Lymph node negative    
 Women without births9014671152 (16.9)1.0 (referent)
 Women with births13674816 (11.8)0.56 (0.33–0.95)b
Tumor size < 2 cm    
 Women without births481240786 (17.9)1.0 (referent)
 Women with births7641411 (14.5)0.70 (0.36–1.4)b
Tumor size ≥ 2 cm    
 Women without births8463889267 (31.6)1.0 (referent)
 Women with births12762528 (22.1)0.52 (0.35–0.77)b
Chemotherapy    
 Women without births6522704203 (31.1)1.0 (referent)
 Women with births8543521 (24.7)0.54 (0.34–0.86)b
No chemotherapy    
 Women without births8294396197 (23.8)1.0 (referent)
 Women with births15483226 (16.9)0.56 (0.37–0.86)b
Radiation    
 Women without births5692750143 (25.1)1.0 (referent)
 Women with births9349014 (15.1)0.44 (0.25–0.77)b
No radiation    
 Women without births9474531266 (28.1)1.0 (referent)
 Women with births15280233 (21.7)0.59 (0.41–0.86)b
Other treatment    
 Women without births22094183 (37.7)1.0 (referent)
 Women with births241336 (25.0)0.36 (0.15–0.88)b
No other treatment    
 Women without births13356530332 (24.9)1.0 (referent)
 Women with births227118842 (18.5)0.57 (0.41–0.79)b

A similar decrease in the RR of mortality occurred among women who were lymph node positive (RR = 0.65; 95% CI, 0.42–0.99) and lymph node negative (RR = 0.56; 95% CI, 0.33–0.95). A somewhat similar pattern was observed for the risk estimates for women with tumor size less than 2 cm (RR = 0.70; 95% CI, 0.36–1.4) and for women with tumor size 2 cm or larger (RR = 0.52; 95% CI, 0.35–0.77). The RRs of mortality also decreased and ranged from 0.44–0.59 among women who had and had not received chemotherapy or radiotherapy as part of their first course of treatments. Risk estimates were also decreased among women who had and had not received other treatment modalities such as hormonal or immunotherapy.

Risk of Mortality Associated with Childbirth Less Than 10 Months after Diagnosis

Similar decreases in the risk of mortality were not associated with having a live birth less than 10 months after a diagnosis of breast carcinoma. Forty-five percent of women with births and 34% of women without births had died by the end of the follow-up period, a difference that was not statistically significant (RR = 1.1; 95% CI, 0.8–1.6) (Table 3). No increased risk of mortality was observed for women with local disease at diagnosis (RR = 0.79; 95% CI, 0.37–1.7). Among women with regional disease at diagnosis, there was a nearly twofold increased risk associated with a live birth less than 10 months after diagnosis (RR = 1.7; 95% CI, 1.1–2.6). Women 35 years or older at diagnosis had an increased risk of mortality associated with a live birth less than 10 months after diagnosis (RR = 1.8; 95% CI, 1.1–2.9), an increase not observed among women younger than 35 years of age (RR = 0.99; 95% CI, 0.63–1.6). Significant increases in risks were not observed when the analysis was restricted to white women (RR = 1.1; 95% CI, 0.77–1.6) or to African-American women (RR = 1.6; 95% CI, 0.55–4.6). Unlike the other two groups, a slightly greater proportion of Asian women without births (25%) than with births (17%) had died. An increased risk was observed for women who were lymph node positive (RR = 1.8; 95% CI, 1.1–2.8), but not for women who were lymph node negative (RR = 1.1; 95% CI, 0.44–2.6). Among women with tumor size less than 2 cm, the RR was 0.83 (95% CI, 0.21–3.2) and among women with a tumor size 2 cm or larger, the RR was 1.4 (95% CI, 0.9–2.3). Among women who had received chemotherapy or radiation as part of their first course of treatment, the risks of mortality associated with a birth less than 10 months from diagnosis were elevated (RR = 1.7; 95% CI, 1.1–2.7 and RR = 3.7; 95% CI, 2.0–7.0, respectively). Women who received other treatments (hormonal or immunotherapy) were at increased risk as well (RR = 3.7; 95% CI, 1.6–8.9). Significantly increased risks were not observed among women who had not received these treatment modalities.

Table 3. Relative Risk of Mortality Associated with Live Birth < 10 Months after Primary Breast Carcinoma Diagnosis in Women Younger than 45 Years
CharacteristicsNo. of women at riskWoman-years at riskaTotal deaths (%)Relative risk of mortality (95% CI)
  • 95% CI: 95% confidence interval.

  • a

    Woman-years computed from date of childbirth.

  • b

    Adjusted for stage, age at diagnosis, study region, diagnosis year category, and race.

  • c

    Exact relative risk and 95% confidence limits.

All births (< 10 mos after diagnosis)    
 Women without births6773755230 (34.0)1.0 (referent)
 Women with births10956749 (45.0)1.1 (0.80–1.6)b
Local disease at diagnosis    
 Women without births331205259 (17.8)1.0 (referent)
 Women with births493399 (18.4)0.79 (0.37–1.7)b
Regional disease at diagnosis    
 Women without births3121614142 (45.5)1.0 (referent)
 Women with births4417127 (61.4)1.7 (1.1–2.6)b
Age < 35 yrs at diagnosis    
 Women without births2531386103 (40.7)1.0 (referent)
 Women with births6537228 (43.1)0.99 (0.63–1.6)b
Age ≥ 35 yrs at diagnosis    
 Women without births4242369127 (30.0)1.0 (referent)
 Women with births4419521 (47.7)1.8 (1.1–2.9)b
White women    
 Women without births6133368210 (34.3)1.0 (referent)
 Women with births8542738 (44.7)1.1 (0.77–1.6)b
African-American women    
 Women without births5432815 (27.8)1.0 (referent)
 Women with births15828 (53.3)1.6 (0.55–4.6)b
Asian women    
 Women without births4231 (25.0)1.0 (referent)
 Women with births6451 (16.7)0.52 (0.03–8.4)c
Lymph node positive    
 Women without births232110094 (40.5)1.0 (referent)
 Women with births4313727 (62.8)1.8 (1.1–2.8)b
Lymph node negative    
 Women without births281164346 (16.4)1.0 (referent)
 Women with births372446 (16.2)1.1 (0.44–2.6)b
Tumor size < 2 cm    
 Women without births187103330 (16.0)1.0 (referent)
 Women with births12623 (25.0)0.83 (0.21–3.2)b
Tumor size ≥ 2 cm    
 Women without births3011486108 (35.9)1.0 (referent)
 Women with births6028423 (38.3)1.4 (0.90–2.3)b
Chemotherapy    
 Women without births3101437106 (34.2)1.0 (referent)
 Women with births5018928 (56.0)1.7 (1.1–2.7)b
No chemotherapy    
 Women without births226138149 (21.7)1.0 (referent)
 Women with births301728 (26.7)1.2 (0.53–2.5)b
Radiation    
 Women without births218113861 (28.0)1.0 (referent)
 Women with births227715 (68.2)3.7 (2.0–7.0)b
No radiation    
 Women without births329177099 (30.1)1.0 (referent)
 Women with births5930620 (33.9)1.1 (0.61–1.9)b
Other treatment    
 Women without births11151446 (41.4)1.0 (referent)
 Women with births155810 (66.8)3.7 (1.6–8.9)b
No other treatment    
 Women without births4472424119 (26.6)1.0 (referent)
 Women with births7335826 (35.6)1.2 (0.75–1.9)b

When evaluated within elapsed time intervals in years since diagnosis, the risk of mortality increased significantly only for women with live births occurring 3 months or less after diagnosis (RR = 1.7; 95% CI, 1.2–2.6; data not shown). Relative to women without births, the risk estimates for women with births occurring 4–6 months, 7–9 months, and 10 to less than 12 months after diagnosis were 1.0 (95% CI, 0.55–1.9), 0.38 (95% CI, 0.12–1.2), and 1.0 (95% CI, 0.23–4.8), respectively. For women with births occurring 2–5 years after their diagnosis, the risks decreased significantly (RR = 0.49; 95% CI, 0.27–0.86 for 2 to less than 3 years; RR = 0.30; 95% CI, 0.12–0.71 for 3 to less than 4 years; RR = 0.19; 95% CI, 0.05–0.81 for 4 to less than 5 years).

DISCUSSION

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. MATERIALS AND METHODS
  4. RESULTS
  5. DISCUSSION
  6. REFERENCES

Childbearing options and outcomes may not be an initial concern for many young women with breast carcinoma facing immediate issues of therapy and survival. However, for many patients with breast carcinoma, childbearing eventually is relevant. Although our results suggest that, at least for women delivering more than 3 months after diagnosis, there is no associated increased risk of mortality, the lack of complete pregnancy history after a diagnosis of breast carcinoma, such as would be obtained by interview, is a limitation of the current study. We were unable to evaluate survival related to pregnancy in general or to evaluate other pregnancy outcomes that did not result in a live birth. If, due to an inability to identify birth certificates (e.g., for births occurring out of the state in which their cancer was diagnosed or for women who may have changed their names), women with births occurring after diagnosis were included erroneously in the comparison group, our results would be biased toward the null. In an earlier, population-based linkage of Finnish cancer registry and birth certificate data, about 4% of women younger than 40 years of age at diagnosis had a term delivery 10 months or more after diagnosis,8 a level similar to that observed in the current study. More recent data from a similar linkage study with Danish registry data indicated that 3% of women 45 years or younger became pregnant after diagnosis.9 A recent study based on self-reported pregnancy history indicated that 36 of 520 (6.9%) women younger than 40 years of age with breast carcinoma in the Seattle region had a subsequent live birth,10 a greater proportion than the 3% observed in the current study using birth records alone. As the earlier study included only premenopausal women with local or regional disease, this may overestimate the proportion of all cancer survivors with live births. Nevertheless, it is likely that our ascertainment of subsequent births is, to some extent, incomplete. If having a live birth is associated with either an increased or decreased risk of mortality, then misclassification of women incorrectly identified as not having births among the comparison group would bias our results toward the null. We were also unable to evaluate the potential effects of other factors possibly associated with risk, and which may also affect survival, including reproductive history prior to diagnosis, family history, and body mass index.12–18

These data suggest that, among young women with breast carcinoma, with the exception of women delivering infants within 3 months of diagnosis, having a subsequent live birth is not associated with an increased risk of dying. These results are generally similar to previous studies.8–10, 19–21 In our data, except for a subgroup with births 3 months or less after diagnosis, women with a live birth less than 10 months after their diagnosis overall did not have worse survival than women without subsequent births. Increased risk estimates were noted, however, for women with regional disease, women 35 years of age or older, women who were lymph node positive, and for women who received chemotherapy, radiation, or other treatments indicated in the registry records as their first course of therapy. For women who were pregnant at the time of diagnosis, decisions regarding whether to become pregnant were only influenced by health status to the extent that reproductive choices in any woman's life are similarly affected. Because of this, results related to live births occurring less than 10 months after diagnosis can be considered unbiased with respect to a cancer-related, “healthy mother” effect, or the likelihood that disease-free, relatively healthier women are more likely to become pregnant than women with adverse disease sequelae or poor prognosis. Although the increased risks of mortality observed for women who had undergone chemotherapy, radiation, or other treatments for their first course of therapy, or among women with regional disease, might be due to an adverse effect of pregnancy on women with more advanced disease, the increased risk may also be related to the use of less aggressive treatments or to a delay in initiation of therapy among pregnant women. Surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy are used in pregnant as well as nonpregnant patients.22 However, some modifications of standard therapies or delay in their initiation may occur in pregnant patients. Because the risk of spontaneous abortion due to mastectomy is quite low, surgery is delayed rarely.23 Recommendations regarding the use of chemotherapy or radiation to treat breast carcinoma in pregnant patients vary in relation to the trimester during which the diagnosis is made, as well as the stage of disease. Pregnant patients with local disease who are in their first trimester may be treated similarly to nonpregnant patients.24 Treatment decisions for later stage disease, or for early or local disease in women who desire adjuvant therapies in addition to surgery, become more complex. As chemotherapeutic agents administered during the first trimester may be associated with the occurrence of malformations in the offspring, recommendations for their use range from delaying any use in lymph node-positive patients until after delivery23 to delaying chemotherapy only until after the first trimester has ended.22 External beam radiation is also a cause of congenital defects and, therefore, is generally delayed until at least 20 weeks of gestation25 or delivery.22 As a delay in adjuvant therapy is associated with relatively poor survival, it is possible that in our data, the increased risk of dying associated with childbearing less than 10 months after diagnosis among women who are lymph node positive, or among women who received chemotherapy or radiation, may be due to a pregnancy-related delay in treatment for women with more advanced disease.

As measured with these data, the risk of dying associated with giving birth at 10 months or more after diagnosis with breast carcinoma was significantly decreased. With few exceptions, this risk decreased significantly in all subgroups explored and for no groups were increased risks observed. Women age 35 years or older at diagnosis had neither an increased nor a decreased risk, unlike younger women, who had a nearly 50% reduction in risk. Unlike the results we observed for women who were pregnant at diagnosis, significant decreases were observed regardless of whether a woman's disease was local or regional or whether she had received radiation or chemotherapy as her first course of therapy. It is possible that the first course of treatment for these women was not inhibited or delayed as a result of pregnancy at the time of diagnosis, resulting in earlier, more aggressive therapy that may have improved survival.

Although African-American and Asian women also had decreased risks for mortality associated with births occurring 10 months or more after diagnosis, the 95% CIs in these subanalyses included one. Among Asian women, a greater proportion of women with births survived relative to women without births, whether or not they were pregnant at diagnosis. Although African-American women did not have significantly increased or decreased risks of mortality associated with births occurring after diagnosis, the difference in mortality among women pregnant at diagnosis is more marked (53% of women with births died vs. 28% of women without births) than for whites. Similarly, the significantly decreased risk of mortality associated with births occurring 10 or more months after diagnosis that was observed for white women was not observed among African-American women. Although this could be due to a lack of statistical power in the analyses restricted to African-American women, the trend of relatively less favorable cancer outcomes among African-American women was reported in previous studies26–28 and may also partly reflect poorer survival in this group, possibly due to access to care or delay in treatment.

The finding in the current study of a decreased risk of mortality associated with a birth occurring 10 months or more after diagnosis is similar to findings of record linkage studies conducted in Finland8 and Denmark.9 Although one could speculate that this may be the result of a hormonal “treatment” effect of pregnancy after diagnosis on breast carcinoma recurrence and mortality, it has been postulated that the apparent protective effect may be due to a healthy mother bias.8 A more recent study using data for 94 women with early-stage breast carcinoma with subsequent pregnancies (as noted in physician records at institutions associated with the International Breast Cancer Study Group) also reported a significantly decreased risk of mortality (RR = 0.44; 95%CI, 0.21–0.96) relative to a comparison group of nonpregnant patients with breast carcinoma with similar characteristics.29 In a related study, the risk of recurrence among patients with breast carcinoma with a subsequent pregnancy, relative to patients without a pregnancy, was of similar magnitude (relative hazard = 0.48; P = 0.14).30 As in the earlier Finnish study, our lack of specific information concerning a woman's health status at the time her pregnancy began is a limitation, and our results may be similarly affected. The extent to which this bias operated in the analysis is unknown. In a previous analysis conducted with a series of women for whom self-reported information on disease recurrence was available, the risk of mortality associated with a subsequent live birth, 1.1 (95% CI, .04–3.7), was neither increased nor decreased.10 Although we lack similar health information for the women in our study cohorts, we attempted to better understand the possible effects of a healthy mother bias within our data by restricting analysis to only women known not to have died 1 year or less after delivery. The resultant risk of mortality associated with a subsequent live birth was 0.70 (95% CI, 0.52–0.94, adjusted for stage, age at diagnosis, study region, diagnosis year category, and race). Lacking further health information for the women in our study cohorts, it is not possible to assess health status at delivery to minimize this potential bias. For this reason, the results related to women with births 10 months or more after diagnosis should not be taken as indicative of a true pregnancy- or birth-associated protective affect on survival. However, the current study results, particularly in light of a growing body of evidence from other studies using various methods, may provide some reassurance to young women with breast carcinoma that subsequent childbearing is unlikely to increase their risk of mortality.

REFERENCES

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. MATERIALS AND METHODS
  4. RESULTS
  5. DISCUSSION
  6. REFERENCES