Pregnancy and Cancer: 5 Things You Need to Know

Baby names, baby showers, gift registries, nursery decorations and routine doctor’s visits are all the things a pregnant woman expecting a child would probably like to concentrate on. It is a time for nesting and excitement.

Cancer is not something anyone wants to think about during pregnancy. Cancer diagnosis while pregnant is real for one in every thousand women expecting a baby. It’s very rare, but cancer diagnosis during pregnancy does happen.

Pregnant ScreeningHere’s what every woman should know about cancer and pregnancy.

What is cancer?
The American Cancer Society defines cancer as the general name for a group of more than 100 diseases. There are many different kinds of cancers. What they have in common is that they begin because abnormal cells grow out of control. Early detection is the key. Untreated cancer can cause serious illness and even death.

What are some tests that can be done to find cancer during pregnancy?
Tests low in radiation, like X-Rays and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), are generally considered safer during pregnancy. Women thinking about cancer screening should talk to their doctor to understand the best cancer screening for their situation.

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 one in three - thousand pregnancies. According to the American Cancer Society, these cancers are also known to show up during pregnancy:

  • Cervical cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Thyroid cancer
  • Hodgkin lymphoma
  • Non-Hodgkin lymphoma
  • Melanoma
  • Gestational trophoblastic tumor

What happens if cancer is discovered during pregnancy?
Doctors and patients have a lot to consider when planning next steps after cancer diagnosis. Important questions like where is the cancer located, how far along is the pregnancy and what is the stage of cancer, all need to be explored. It’s likely that a team of oncologists and other doctors will work together to find the best methods for keeping the mother and fetus safe.

A medical oncologist, surgical oncologist, radiation oncologist, and pediatric oncologist are doctors who specialize in cancer treatment.

If cancer is discovered during pregnancy or any other time of life, it’s good to have a support system of reliable people. Being surrounded with positive people that can attend doctor’s appointments or act as a listening ear can help tremendously when battling cancer.

What are common cancer treatments available during pregnancy?

  • Surgery is an option when a tumor needs to be removed from healthy tissue. There is anesthesia used during surgery that 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 fetus.
  • Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to wipe out cancer cells. The drugs usually stop the cancer cells' from growing and dividing. There is a chance of harm to the developing fetus whenever chemotherapy is used, but particularly in the first three months of pregnancy, when vital organs are still developing. The risk of harm to the mother and fetus depend on the drug and the stage of pregnancy.
  • Radiation therapy is the use of high-energy x-rays to wipe out cancer cells. The risks to the developing fetus depend on the dose of radiation, the area of the body being treated and the stage of pregnancy.

motherCancer is a serious illness that will require teamwork from the doctor and patient. The tests and treatments we’ve included is just a fraction of the information needed to understand cancer and pregnancy. If you or someone you know has concerns, talking to a doctor is the best course of action to learn more.


Resources: American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO); American Cancer Society (ACS)


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