Can Fertility Treatment Lead to Breast Cancer?

By Emily Murray

In the recent wake of  surprising news that 36-year-old E! News host Giuliana Rancic’s has been fighting breast cancer, many women are taking a look at their own health while sending healing thoughts her way.

While most women follow the general rule of starting routine mammograms at the age of 40, Giuliana’s diagnosis happened at age 36 which is reason enough for us to question this practice. Additionally, she  had previously spoken to the public about her difficulties getting pregnant while trying to start a family with husband Bill.

The couple turned to in-vitro fertilization (IVF) which of course requires treatments which tamper with the woman’t natural hormonal levels. It seems natural that her announcement has triggered some concern over the safety of IVF and has led many to question the safety of fertility treatments in general when it comes to breast health.

A recent TIME article also explored this subject recently which pointed out that previous studies have in fact found some correlation between fertility treatments and uterine, breast and ovarian cancer risk. So can any of us know for certain that this was the case for Giuliana? Unfortunately not.

As quoted in the TIME article, CNN’s medical managing editor Miriam Falco had the following opinion on this frightening condition.

“There’s no evidence for a link between breast cancer and infertility treatment,” says Dr. Eric Widra, who chairs the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology. A 2005 study looked at a possibility but the study authors concluded a link to breast or ovarian cancer had not been found.

Dr. George Sledge, co-director of breast cancer treatment at Indiana University’s Simon Cancer Center, says there are no good data to show that IVF accelerates breast cancer. “Not having a child and infertility in itself increases the risk for breast cancer,” he says. Sledge isn’t familiar with Rancic’s medical history, but he says the younger you are when you have your first child, the less likely you are to have breast cancer.”

It seems not even the most seasoned medical professionals can come to a solid agreement.

So why would there be any correlation at all?
Essentially when a woman undergoes any type of fertility treatment, she is exposed to unnatural amounts of hormones including estrogen and  progesterone. But even though these previous studies saw a correlation, many medical professionals are claiming that these treatments are safe for women to undergo.

In Giuliana’s case, of course while she undergoes treatment she will need to hold off on trying to become pregnant. Many women may not know this, but pregnancy can actually cause cancer cells to grow and divide more quickly causing the cancer to progress further.

As she bravely announced to the public her diagnosis, she has also reportedly said that she will go back to her IVF treatments once she has been cancer free long enough for the doctor to render is safe to begin trying again.

As unfortunate as this event is for the much-loved celeb, it is a wake up call for women to be sure that they are seeing their doctor for checkups frequently and also conducting self breast exams on a regular basis.