Study: Fertility Treatments Pose No Extra Risk for BRCA+ Cancer Survivors

A new report provides reassuring news for young breast cancer survivors with BRCA gene mutations: fertility treatments like in vitro fertilization (IVF) do not increase the risk of tumor recurrence.

This conclusion comes from an Italian study, which addresses previous concerns that hormone-sensitive breast tissue could be adversely affected by the elevated estrogen levels involved in assisted reproductive techniques (ARTs).

Lead author Matteo Lambertini emphasized that this research is the first to confirm the safety of fertility procedures for women with BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene variants, which are known to elevate breast and ovarian cancer risks. Lambertini, an associate professor of medical oncology at the University of Genova, shared these findings during the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) annual meeting in Lugano, Switzerland.

The study provides essential evidence for women and their healthcare providers when weighing the risks and benefits of ART to preserve fertility after completing cancer treatments. Women diagnosed with breast cancer during their reproductive years often opt to freeze their eggs to counteract the risk of early menopause induced by cancer therapies. However, this process involves increasing estrogen levels, which had raised concerns about potential cancer recurrence.

To investigate this, Lambertini's team analyzed data from 2000 to 2020, tracking nearly 5,000 women with BRCA1/2 mutations diagnosed with breast cancer at age 40 or younger. They compared breast cancer recurrence in 107 women who used ART to conceive with 436 women who conceived naturally. Five years post-conception, both groups showed no significant differences in cancer recurrence rates or pregnancy complications. However, the ART group experienced more miscarriages and fewer induced abortions.

Lambertini noted the challenge of studying this rare demographic, requiring a global collaboration to gather sufficient data. Ann Partridge, co-author and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, affirmed that these findings offer comforting evidence that fertility preservation methods, whether pursued before or after breast cancer treatment, are safe for both cancer recurrence and the health of the baby.

These findings are considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

 SOURCE: European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO), news release, May 16, 2024