Does pregnancy affect cancer risk?

To the moms of 3-month-olds, 3-year-olds and 33-year-olds: Happy Mother’s Day. 

No matter where you are on your life journey, you are important as a woman and valued for the life you gave to someone else.

And, as a birth mother, it is likely your pregnancy affected your cancer risk. Below, we examine the latest information on the topic from various health organizations.

Pregnancy and breast cancer risk

The relationships between breast cancer and child-bearing are complex, but appear to be linked to whether or not you have a full-term pregnancy, and your age when you have your first pregnancy. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), becoming pregnant after age 30 or never having a full-term pregnancy may increase breast cancer risk. It’s also important to note some birth control pills (oral contraceptives) have been found to raise breast cancer risk.

Pregnancy and cervical cancer risk

Almost all cervical cancers are caused by a common virus, human papillomavirus (HPV), which is passed from one person to another during sex — vaginal, oral or anal.

However, there are a few risk factors associated with cervical cancer, including those related to pregnancy. Women who have given birth to three or more children are more likely to develop cervical cancer, according to the CDC. Additionally, women who use birth control pills for five years or longer are at an increased risk of cervical cancer.

Breastfeeding and breast cancer prevention

Most research points to breastfeeding as an opportunity to decrease a woman’s risk for breast cancer. Mothers who breastfeed for a lifetime total (combined duration of breastfeeding for all children) of 1 year are slightly less likely to get breast cancer. Mothers who breastfeed for a lifetime total of 2 years get about twice the benefit of mothers who breastfeed for 1 year.

It’s important to note breastfeeding may also lower the risk of

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Ovarian cancer
  • Postpartum depression

Examine your cancer risk

Whether you have or have not had children, regular exams will help to decrease your cancer risk. Cervical cancer screenings should start at age 21 and breast cancer screenings should start at age 40, according to American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommendations.

If you’re concerned that you may not be able to afford cervical and breast cancer screenings, whether due to high deductibles or a gap in your insurance, know that The HealthyWoman Program of Central PA may be able to financially support you. Take our brief questionnaire to determine your eligibility.

You shouldn’t have to conquer health fears alone. The HealthyWoman Program is here to help. We believe you’ve got this, and we’ve got you. Learn more today at HealthyWomanProgram.com.