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Pregnancy After Breast Cancer?

Director Oliver Hirschbiegel, left, and actor Liam Neeson pose together at the premiere for "Five Minutes of Heaven" at the Tribeca Grand Hotel on Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2009, in New York.
AP Photo
She may be the daughter of a breast cancer patient, but 40-year-old Elizabeth Adams's diagnosis still came as a surprise.

"There was something on the mammogram ... there were calcifications that needed to be investigated," said Adam. "No one suspected it was anything since it was my first mammogram."

Those calcifications turned out to be cancerous. Removing them would involve surgery and possibly radiation and chemotherapy. The side effects of these treatments threatened Adams's ovaries and her dream of becoming a mother.

Getting pregnant is especially difficult for breast cancer patients. To treat the disease, doctors try to lower estrogen levels, but those same estrogen levels need to be high if a woman wants to conceive.

So, before going under the knife, Adams and several other women, enrolled in a small fertility study in New York City. They were given a cancer fighting drug, Tamoxifen, which shares properties with the popular fertility drug Clomid.

"When we used Tamoxifen, every patient was able to fertilize and have at least one embryo on average. In some cases two embryos," said Cornell Medical Center's Dr. Kudluk Oktay.

Still, the study's author and others in the fertility field believe more research is needed.

"The advantage of Tamoxifen is theoretically - and only theoretically - it's a safer drug for these patients than we currently use. But that's really where the investigation should be focused," says NYU Medical Center's Dr. Jamie Griffo. "How risky are our current treatments? They may be better but we don't know yet."

What we do know, says Dr. Mallika Marshall of CBS affiliate WBZ-TV in Boston, is that having breast cancer doesn't mean you can't have a baby. She says a woman with breast cancer has to make the personal choice on whether to consider getting pregnant. Dr. Marshall recommends the patient have a serious discussion with her oncologist and ob-gyn regarding the risks and benefits of having a baby after her illness.

Some medical professionals say a woman should wait about two years after breast cancer treatments to have a baby. Waiting makes it easier to track the cancer if it returns. That said, Marshall says, there are only a finite number of years that a woman can have a baby and a two-year delay could significantly decrease her chances of getting pregnant.

Marshall adds that a big concern of any pregnant woman with cancer is passing her disease on to her unborn child. But, according to the National Cancer Institute, breast cancer cells do not appear to pass on to the unborn child. And having a baby should not affect the woman's survival rate.