In the past few decades, the number of pregnant women diagnosed with cancer has increased.
Why? Researchers believe it could be partly due to the fact that women are waiting longer to have children.
“Pregnancy-associated cancers have increased, and this increase is only partially explained by increasing maternal age,” wrote researcher Christine Roberts of the University of Sydney in a new study published in the journal of obstetrics and gynecology BJOG.
However, another reason for the change could be better cancer detection methods. “Pregnancy increases women’s interaction with health services and the possibility for diagnosis, but may also influence tumor growth,” Roberts continued.
After noting that, in 2007, 192 of 100,000 pregnant and post-partum women received a cancer diagnosis compared to the 112/100,000 women who were diagnosed in 1994, doctors wanted to know if the rise was an indication that age increased risk.
The group gathered data on 780,000 women who had given birth between 1994 and 2008. These women gave birth to a collective 1.3 million babies in that time. They found that, during this time frame, 1,800 new cancers were found in women who were either pregnant or who had given birth within the last year.
The findings also reflected that the number of diagnoses increased, as did the age at which women were becoming pregnant. In 1994, 13 percent of new mothers were over age 35, but in 2007, that number jumped to 24 percent.
In general, the risk of cancer increases with age, with women over 35 being three times as likely to develop it (as of 2007 findings).
Critical of the findings, a researcher of the University of California, Lloyd Smith noted that the majority of the cases were melanoma cases, and Australia tends to rank highest in the world in melanoma cases.
One thing he does acknowledge is that it is important to continue this research to clear up the association in order to make appropriate recommendations to the family.
“When you have a pregnant woman who has cancer, the infant’s at risk, the woman’s at risk, the family is in extreme distress and they’re seeking the best advice, which is often confused because no one knows quite what to do.”
Further research is needed to determine whether the association between cancer and pregnancy at an advanced age is strongly linked.
Do you know anyone who was diagnosed with cancer during pregnancy?