Did IVF Accelerate Giuliana Rancic’s Breast Cancer Diagnosis?

Giuliana Rancic says her future IVF baby may have saved her life – but maybe the IVF treatment itself should get some credit.

The 36-year-old host of E! News and Fashion Police revealed this week that after two unsuccessful IVF attempts her fertility doctor ordered a mammogram which showed breast cancer.

“I truly believe that God was looking out for me,” she said on the Today Show. “I’m not going to give up. I want that baby…. That baby will have saved my life.”

Rancic’s mammography detected the tumor, which was likely already growing when she started fertility treatments in March 2010, but it’s possible that the IVF drugs she took made it grow to a size that was visible.

“Breast cancer is probably a very, very slowly developing disease at first – so you may have breast cancer cells for many, many years before they get to a detectable point,” explains Eric Widra, M.D, from the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technologies.

But if Rancic’s tumor is hormone-sensitive, her fertility drugs could have boosted the tumor’s growth.

“If there is a preexisting tumor, high estrogen levels may make it more readily detectable,” said  Dr. Kutluk Oktay, a fertility specialist from New York Medical College.

“Theoretically if you have a breast cancer and you go through IVF and your estrogen levels spike up, could that stimulate growth? Sure,” says Dr. Widra.

While mammograms are not routinely recommended for IVF patients, the fact that Rancic’s doctor ordered the test gave her a “fortuitous” head-start on fighting the disease, says breast cancer specialist Stephen R. Grobmyer, M.D. Director of the Multidisciplinary Breast Cancer Program at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

Patients in whom breast cancer is detected early have a much better prognosis and typically require less aggressive treatments.

Rancic is scheduled to undergo surgery this week and then 6-and-a-half weeks of radiation.

Although that treatment is unlikely to harm her ovaries, some breast cancer patients also have to undergo chemotherapy which can kill all their eggs and their chances of a future pregnancy, says Dr. Oktay.

For those patients “fertility preservation” is recommended, he says. That involves freezing eggs or embryos before starting chemotherapy and then using them to get pregnant later when they are cancer free.

We’re pleased to publish this guest post, written by veteran medical journalist Kate Johnson. Ms. Johnson is a former bureau chief for International Medical News Group and a former TV News reporter for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. She has served on the editorial board of the American Medical Writers Association and is a member of  the Associations of Health Care Journalists. Kate is based in Montreal and currently writes medical news and features for both health care professionals and the general public. Her blog, Medical Musings, is about life through the eyes of a medical journalist. You can follow her on Twitter @kjohnsonmed

Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

3 Comments

  1. Jeff Burdick

    October 22, 2011 at 2:02 pm

    Good luck to all couples starting their fertility/IVF journey. Inherent to this process are inevitable up’s and down’s. Sometimes the best medicine is a little humor. In this spirit, here is a link to a YouTube humor video I created about my wife and my journey called “What I learned at the Fertility Clinic.” Enjoy: http://tinyurl.com/3k2dzkb

    • Dr. M

      October 22, 2011 at 2:43 pm

      Thanks for the video Jeff, and good luck in your fertility journey!

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