Pregnancy and Cancer: 5 Things You Need to Know

Pregnancy and Cancer: 5 Things You Need to Know

Baby showers, gift registries, nursery decorations, baby names and routine doctor’s visits are all the things a woman expecting a child would likely to focus on. It’s a time for future planning and excitement. Cancer is the last thing a family wants to think about during pregnancy.

Cancer diagnosis during pregnancy is real for 1 in every 1,000 women expecting a baby. It is very rare, but it does happen.

Here Are 5 Things To Know
  1. What’s the most common cancer diagnosed during pregnancy?
    Of all the cancers, breast cancer is diagnosed most while women are pregnant. Breast cancer occurs in 1 in 3,000 pregnancies. According to the American Cancer Society, these cancers are also known to show up during pregnancy: leaving site icon 
    • Cervical cancer
    • Thyroid cancer
    • Hodgkin lymphoma
    • Non-Hodgkin lymphoma
    • Skin cancer
    • Gestational trophoblastic tumor

  2. What are some tests that can be done to find cancer during pregnancy?
    Tests low in radiation, like X-Rays and MRI are generally considered safe during pregnancy. Women thinking about cancer screening should talk to their doctor to figure out the best testing for them.

  3. What happens if cancer is found during pregnancy?
    Doctors and patients have a lot to consider when deciding next steps after cancer diagnosis. Where is the cancer located? How far along is the pregnancy? What is the stage of cancer?All these details need to be explored. It’s likely that a team of cancer experts and other doctors will work together to find the best methods for keeping the mother and fetus safe.

  4. What are some common cancer treatments available during pregnancy?
    • Surgery is an option when a tumor needs to be removed from healthy tissue. Anesthesia used during surgery could present some risks for the developing fetus. The anesthesiologist, surgeon and high-risk obstetrician will work together to decide the safest drugs for both the mother and baby.
    • Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to wipe out cancer cells and stop more from growing and spreading. The chance of harm to the baby depend on the drug and the stage of pregnancy. There is a chance of harm if chemotherapy is given in the first three months of pregnancy when vital organs are still developing.
    • Radiation therapy is the use of high-energy x-rays to destroy cancer cells. The risks to the baby depend on the dose of radiation and the area of the body being treated.Cancer is a serious illness that will calls for teamwork from the patient and doctors.

  5. How will the cancer affect my pregnancy?
    In the first trimester, treatment can be risky. For example, chemo may cause birth defects or pregnancy loss. Testing, though, shouldn’t harm the fetus. After the first trimester treatment has far less severe risks, but there is a chance that the baby could come early or be small for its age.

    Once the baby is born, you can continue your cancer treatment. If you are on chemotherapy, breastfeeding isn’t a good idea.

It’s vital that you have a support system of friends and family. Being surrounded with positive people who can attend doctor’s appointments or act as a listening ear can help tremendously when battling cancer.

Source: Cancer During Pregnancy, leaving site icon, 2018; 5 Things You Need to Know About Cancer During Pregnancy, leaving site icon National Foundation for Cancer Research, 2020

Originally published January 15, 2016, Revised 2020