Typically, women who have their first child after age 30 have a higher chance of breast cancer than women who give birth before age 30. Still, a study indicates that breast cancer risk lessening from pregnancy doesn’t kick in until about 20 years after a woman’s last pregnancy. The outcomes also found that women younger than 55 who had a full-term pregnancy had a slightly higher risk of acquiring breast cancer during the study.

Many news reports about this study conclude that giving birth increases breast cancer risk. It’s essential to know that the final answer is more complex and nuanced than the headlines make it sound, says Dr Suvadip Chakrabarti, a breast cancer doctor in Kolkata.

Pregnancy and breast cancer risk

Earlier studies found that a woman’s short-term risk of breast cancer increases for 2 to 15 years after a pregnancy, but the studies could not determine a definitive reason for this short-term increase in risk. Still, if a woman’s first pregnancy occurs before the age of 30, her overall lifetime risk of developing breast cancer after menopause lowers.

When breast cells are made in adolescence, they are immature and very active until their first full-term pregnancy. The immature breast cells react to the hormone estrogen and hormone-disrupting chemicals in products that you intake. The first full-term pregnancy makes the breast cells mature and grow more regularly. This is the main cause why pregnancy helps to prevent breast cancer. Being pregnant also decreases the total number of lifetime menstrual cycles, which can be another reason why earlier pregnancy seems to deliver a protective effect.

When a woman is older when she has her first baby or never has a full-term pregnancy, her breast cancer risk increases because she is exposed to more estrogen over her lifetime, her breast cells also take longer to mature fully, says the breast cancer surgeon in Kolkata.

What did the study state?

This research is necessary because it indicates that breast cancer risk factors for young women can differ from risk factors for older women, but it shouldn’t cause panic. The decision to have a child is very personal, complex and requires dedication and support. The incapability to have children can be very painful and having a child without a partner can be daunting for some women.

Some women may like not to have children and others may choose to wait until they are older. Many women who would like to get pregnant are prevented by infertility. After a breast cancer diagnosis, the chance to have children can be restricted by lingering treatment side effects and taking hormonal therapy medicine to lower the risk of cancer coming back (it’s hazardous to take hormonal therapy while one is pregnant), says the breast cancer doctor in Kolkata.

Getting pregnant is a highly personal decision impacted by many factors besides breast cancer risk. Whether or not one has children at a younger age, there are lifestyle choices one can make to keep their breast cancer risk as low as it can be, including:

  • Exercising every day
  • Limiting or avoiding alcohol
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Not smoking
  • Eating healthy

For more details consult Dr Suvadip Chakrabarti, a breast cancer surgeon in Kolkata.