Expectant parents have countless worries. They’re concerned about the health and well-being of their soon-to-be kid(s). Plenty of pregnant people spend time closely monitoring their weight, their measurements, their sugar levels and their heart health — and many worry about labor and delivery. But cancer fears? That’s not quite on the preggo worry list — until now. Ugh.
According to a new study conducted by researchers at the University of North Carolina’s Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and published in Annals of Internal Medicine, childbirth can increase your risk of developing breast cancer — by up to 80 percent.
Researchers analyzed data from 15 studies and nearly 890,000 women, and while the focus of their study was to better understand breast cancer risk after childbirth, they also evaluated the impact of other factors, such as breastfeeding and genetics. What they found was that those with a family history of breast cancer were most at risk.
They also found that, for women 55 years and younger, breast cancer risk “peaked” about five years after they had given birth.
This data may seem contrary to what one would assume, as previous studies have shown pregnancy and childbirth increase your protection, but these protective benefits take many years to develop. According to Dr. Hazel B. Nichols, assistant professor of epidemiology at the Gillings School and member of UNC’s Comprehensive Cancer Center, it takes “more than 20 years for childbirth to become protective.”
“What most people know is that women who have children tend to have lower breast cancer risk than women who have not had children, but that really comes from what breast cancer looks like for women in their 60s and beyond,” Dr. Nichols said in a statement. “Before that, breast cancer risk was higher in women who had recently had a child.”
As for what new and expectant mothers can do, the American Cancer Society recommends all women over 20 receive an annual breast exam (this includes a self-check) and those over 40 receive a mammogram. You should also speak to your doctor about any additional concerns because, when it comes to your health, you cannot be too cautious.