A study by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine revealed that women who have trouble getting pregnant have a higher risk of developing breast cancer and dying early from diabetes.

Having a baby at some point could be protective against breast cancer, and early death reported study author Dr. Natalie Stentz from the University of Pennsylvania. The author adds, “Infertility is a disease that may have a great impact on a woman’s lifelong health outside of the inability to conceive.”

The study involved approximately 78,000 women. The women were followed for 13 years, and 14 percent of the women were said to be infertile. A woman is considered to be infertile if she is unable to conceive for more than a year despite regular unprotected sexual intercourse. Data collected revealed that infertile women were 10 percent more likely to have an early death, 45 percent more likely to develop and die of breast cancer and 70 percent increased risk of a diabetes-related death.

“Based on our recent research, we see that the risk of mortality due to cancer and diabetes is greater in infertile women. The same trends are not witnessed 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 studies,” remarked Dr. Stentz. Researchers noted that there were no increased risks of getting ovarian or uterine malignancies.

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

In light of these findings, all women are encouraged to talk to their doctors about appropriate screening for these diseases. Breast cancer and diabetes are some of the diseases responsible for increased morbidity and mortality among women. “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,” remarked Dr. Natalie Stentz.

Women who suspect infertility are not always keen on other aspects of their health. “When clients come to us for fertility options, the first suggestion is always to get a series of fertility tests done by your family doctor. It is 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 their health,” remarked Leia Swanberg, the chief executive officer of Canadian fertility consulting.

Swanberg further adds, “Research like this is also important for health professionals to consider things like breast exams or diabetes testing before considering fertility options.”

Another issue that is a barrier is the fear associated with talking openly about infertility because of stigma. “Many men and women struggle in silence because of stigma, and for this we need support. One should find a mental health professional that can guide them through this. One shouldn’t pursue fertility treatment without somebody in their corner,” remarked Leia Swanberg.


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