Infertility in women could mean higher breast cancer risk, early death: study

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A major study has found that infertility in women can point to greater underlying health problems – Oct 31, 2017

Women who have trouble getting pregnant could have serious health problems down the road.

According to a new large study presented at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine in San Antonio, infertility in women could mean a higher risk of breast cancer, early death and death by diabetes, the Telegraph reports.

Study author Dr. Natalie Stentz of the University of Pennsylvania, said the research shows having a baby at some point could be considered protective.

“Infertility is a disease that may have a greater impact on a woman’s lifelong health outside of the inability to conceive,” she tells Global News.

READ MORE: How you can find support if you experience infertility

The numbers

The study looked at more than 78,000 women for 13 years, and 14 per cent of them who said they were infertile (they could not conceive for one year or more).

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The data showed women who were infertile were 10 per cent more likely to have an early death, 45 per cent more likely to die from breast cancer and had a 70 per cent increased risk of a diabetes-related death.

“Based upon our current research, we see that the risk of all-cause, cancer-related and diabetes-related mortality is greater in infertile women. We do not currently see the same trends in risk of death from myocardial infarction or stroke. Other associations with infertility and disease are currently unexplored and should be the topic of further investigation,” she continues.

Researchers note, however, there were no increased risks of getting ovarian or uterine cancers.

READ MORE: Testing infertility in men may be as easy as taking a home pregnancy-like test

“When you look at studies of women who have never borne children, they are at an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and several malignancies, Stentz said during the presentation. “There is certainly a rejuvenation hypothesis that just by becoming pregnant, a woman may be at lower risk of malignancies and long-term disease.”

And because things like breast cancer and diabetes should be a concern for all women, it’s better to get checked early than prolong it.

“Given the underlying risks of breast cancer and diabetes in the general population, all women, infertile or not, should talk to their doctors about appropriate screening for these diseases.”

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Making health a priority

But when women are infertile, they may not be thinking about all of the other factors of a healthy pregnancy, says Leia Swanberg, CEO of Canadian Fertility Consulting.

“When we have clients come to us for fertility options … the first suggestion is to get to your family doctor to have testing done,” she tells Global News.

She adds it’s also important for women to look at their lifestyle in general: their hormone levels, weight, alcohol consumption, smoking habits, recreational drug use, stress and other factors that can influence a successful pregnancy.

She says research like this is also important for health professionals to consider things like breast exams or diabetes testing before considering fertility options.

“Women want to get pregnant and they’ve been trying for a long time,” she says. I really believe some women imagine this fertility clinic is going to test them for everything, but their focus is on getting you pregnant.”

READ MORE: What it’s like to struggle with unexplained infertility in your 20s

She says reading studies like these can also create fear for women, but it’s always important to remember it is one set of research and if you do have concerns, talk to your doctor about the findings.

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She adds another ongoing issue is the stigma of talking about infertility openly — many women and men struggle in silence. For this, she says, you need support.

“Find a mental health professional that can guide you through this,” she says. “You shouldn’t pursue fertility treatment without somebody in your corner.”

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