Pregnancy and breast cancer
This page is about pregnancy and breast cancer. You can find information about
Avoiding pregnancy during treatment
If you are having chemotherapy, tamoxifen, or herceptin it is very important not to get pregnant. Even if your treatment is likely to make you infertile, it may not do so straight away. The treatment could damage a developing baby. Women who have had breast cancer are usually advised not to take the pill. You can talk to your hospital doctor or GP about the best choice of birth control for you.
Pregnancy after breast cancer
If you want to have a baby after treatment, talk it over with your doctor and partner. Most doctors recommend waiting 2 years after your treatment has finished before trying to get pregnant. This is because, if breast cancer comes back, it is most likely to do so within the first 2 years. The longer you stay free from breast cancer, the less likely it is that it will come back. But you still need to think about what might happen if the cancer comes back after you have had a baby.
The effect of treatment on your fertility
Unfortunately you will not be able to have children if you have had radiotherapy to your ovaries, an operation to remove your ovaries, or some types of chemotherapy. Infertility can be very difficult to cope with if you wanted to have a child or increase your family. Talking to friends and family may help. But you can also ask for professional help from a breast care nurse or counsellor.
You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the Living with breast cancer section.
If you are having chemotherapy, tamoxifen, or herceptin, it is very important that you don't become pregnant. Even if your treatment is likely to make you infertile, it may not do so straight away. The treatment could damage a developing baby so it is important for you to use reliable contraception.
After your treatment is over you could become pregnant if your treatment hasn't affected your fertility. But most doctors usually advise waiting for a while. There is more about pregnancy after breast cancer treatment below.
Women who have had breast cancer are usually advised not to take the pill because the cancer may be affected by female hormones. There is more about the effects of these hormones in the hormone therapy pages of our treating breast cancer section.
Your choice of birth control is mainly personal. Your likes and dislikes, and your partner's, if you have one, are important. Some women have religious and moral issues to think about too. The withdrawal method and rhythm methods of birth control are not safe enough to be sure of preventing pregnancy. You may find that talking through your situation with your religious leader, or a trained counsellor, can help you find a suitable alternative.
As far as breast cancer goes, your choices of contraception are
- Barrier methods, such as condoms or the cap
- Lubricating jelly used with barrier contraceptives if you need extra moisture during sex – you can get it from the chemist without a prescription
- A coil (IUD) – your GP can fit you with a coil, but not one that works by releasing progesterone (one of the female hormones)
- Sterilisation – some women choose this to stop the risk of getting pregnant
- If all other methods of contraception are unacceptable, you may be able to use the combined oestrogen and progesterone pill
- The morning after pill is acceptable in emergencies, because a single dose of hormones is unlikely to affect your breast cancer
Most breast cancer specialists say that it is OK to use the morning after pill and it is the best thing to do in a difficult situation. It is not a view based on research though, because there is no published research into this issue. Talk to your hospital doctor, breast care nurse or GP about the best choice of birth control for you.
Most doctors advise women that it is best to wait for 2 years after treatment before getting pregnant. But this is not because the pregnancy could affect the breast cancer. They recommend this because breast cancer is most likely to come back within the first 2 years after you are diagnosed. If the cancer came back, you'd need more treatment. And having treatment could be very difficult if you were either pregnant or had a young baby.
Many breast cancers are sensitive to the female hormone oestrogen. This has led to concerns that the high levels of oestrogen in the body during pregnancy might increase the risk of a breast cancer coming back. But most studies have found that pregnancy after treatment for breast cancer does not increase risk of the cancer coming back.
If you want to have a baby, talk it over with your doctor, who knows your full medical history. It is helpful to include your partner in any discussions. You can ask your doctor whether there are any risks if you become pregnant and talk to them about what would happen if the cancer came back.
Unfortunately you will not be able to have children if you have had
- Radiotherapy to your ovaries
- An operation to remove your ovaries
- Some types of chemotherapy
Chemotherapy or hormone therapy are most likely to make you permanently infertile if you are near to the age when your menopause is likely to start. Different women go through menopause at different ages, so it can vary from 40 to 58 or older.
If you would like more information about infertility you can contact the Cancer Research UK nurses. If you would like someone to chat to, contact one of the organisations on our breast cancer organisations page. They will be happy to help. You can find detailed information about treatments for breast cancer in our breast cancer treatment section.
Not being able to have children can be very difficult to cope with, even if you already have children. Fertility is such an important part of many people's lives. Not being able to have children can seem hard when you are already having to manage breast cancer.
Loss of fertility can take some time to come to terms with. Allow yourself time to adjust and express your sadness that part of your life has been taken away. When you feel ready, it may help to talk to your partner, a family member or a close friend. Don't be afraid to ask your doctor or breast care nurse for professional help.
Question about cancer? Contact our information nurse team