Health & Fitness

Aborting due to breast cancer does not prolong mother’s life

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Terminating a pregnancy due to breast cancer does not prolong life, a new study has shown. PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK

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Summary

  • A new study shows that women can carry a pregnancy to term after breast cancer.
  • Breast cancer is increasingly affecting younger African women compared to developed countries, raising the need for more research and awareness of early screening.

Terminating a pregnancy due to breast cancer does not prolong life, a new study has shown.

The research presented at the Kenya International Cancer Conference on Saturday by Dr Abeid Omar, an Egyptian oncologist, shows that women can carry a pregnancy to term after breast cancer.

“The main concern is the best time to get pregnant. Two years after treatment is the best time because the risk of recurrence is lower,” said Dr Omar, who followed 900 breast cancer patients, 48 of whom wished to get pregnant.

Only 27 conceived, 10 terminated the pregnancy while 17 carried the foetus to term.

“The patients who aborted had a low survival rate of 50 per cent compared to 91 per cent in those who continued with the pregnancy,” he said, adding that ending a pregnancy due to breast cancer treatment does not necessarily prolong life.

Breast cancer is increasingly affecting younger African women compared to developed countries, raising the need for more research and awareness of early screening.

For instance, a majority of Kenyan women are diagnosed with breast cancer at 40 and they tend to have a low survival rate compared to older patients, a study done at Kenyatta National Hospital shows.

The study involving 400 patients conducted over three years showed that many women present with lumps, mostly on the left side of the breast, and a majority have no history of smoking, taking alcohol, or having first-degree relatives with the disease, risk factors that are seen to increase breast cancer cases in developed countries.

“Patients below the age of 50 had significantly poorer survival than those who are above 50.

“After five years follow-up, 25 per cent of the patients in the study had died,” said Prof Nicholas Othieno-Abinya, a medical oncologist who presented the research at the virtual Kenya International Cancer Conference that attracted cancer experts from Africa and the US.

Only 26 per cent of the women were diagnosed when the disease was at Stage 1.

The late diagnosis makes the disease hard and expensive to treat, making a case for mammogram tests for women who have reached 40 years, self-breast examination awareness, and genetic testing for those with a family history.

There are a very low awareness level and uptake of mammography despite breast cancer being leading cancer in Kenya with about 6,000 reported cases every year. For instance, in Nyeri, a survey showed that more than 71 per cent of participants had never heard of mammograms.

Testing for hereditary cancer is still a foreign concept in Kenya due to a lack of knowledge, poor follow-up, and the high cost of genetic tests.

“Genetic tests enable women to understand the eventuality of requiring aggressive optional treatments like mastectomy before the disease starts and frequent check-ups,” said Prof Asim Jamal, an oncologist at Aga Khan University Hospital.

In developed countries, women with a family risk of getting breast cancer are offered free genetic services.

Dr Catherine Mutinda, a genome specialist who researched genetic testing, said in the UK, a woman who has had relatives die or diagnosed with breast cancer is invited for the screening of the disease as early as at the age of 21.

“Those found to have BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 gene mutation are offered an option of doing mastectomy (removal of the breast to lower risk of getting cancer). This does not happen in Kenya. Breasts and ovaries removal is not guided by gene tests,” she said at the cancer conference that hosted experts seeking to chart a new path for localised treatments for African patients.