More women succeeding at pregnancy after cancer

By Judy Fortin
CNN Health Minute
March 24, 2008
Pregnancy after cancer treatment is increasingly possible


ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) — Daphne Babrow’s son, Evan, is only 5 months old and she’s already thinking about getting pregnant again. The decision won’t be easy.

At 41, Babrow is also a recent survivor of ovarian cancer. She feels lucky to be alive and doubly blessed to be a new mom. “I knew if I ever had a baby, it was God’s little message that I was going to live on.”

Babrow, a public health consultant from Fayetteville, Georgia, is part of a growing number of cancer survivors who are not only winning the battle against the disease, but who also are going on to have safe and successful pregnancies.

“If you maintain some part of your fertility, pregnancy is clearly an option,” said Dr. Carolyn Runowicz, a gynecologic oncologist and director of the Neag Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Connecticut in Farmington.

Runowicz, a breast cancer survivor herself, has encouraging news for many women who want to get pregnant when their disease is in remission. She said, “It’s absolutely possible depending on what cancer you had.”

There are no specific guidelines or timetables for women wanting to get pregnant after cancer treatment, she said. Some breast cancer survivors are told to wait at least two years to make sure aggressive tumors don’t recur. 

“Pregnancy is an enormous surge of hormones,” added Runowicz. “If you have a cancer that is hormone sensitive, you just worry that you can exacerbate a recurrence.”

Runowicz warns patients up front that some cancers and cancer treatments may leave a woman infertile. For instance, certain chemotherapy and radiation procedures can send a woman into premature menopause. Other gynecologic cancers may require removal of reproductive organs.

For those reasons, Runowicz said, it is very important for women to discuss fertility options with a doctor before undergoing cancer treatments.

Unfortunately, she said, the conversation is sometimes forgotten when a doctor delivers a cancer diagnosis. “Once you hear the three words, ‘You have cancer,’ panic sets in. You feel like you need to be treated yesterday and in that frame of mind, issues like fertility are often not right up front.”

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