Cancer During Pregnancy


Pregnancy is usually one of the most exciting times in a woman’s (and family’s) life, filled with anticipation of a growing family.  The focus is on keeping both mom and baby happy and healthy, but, what if mom is not healthy.  What if mom is diagnosed with cancer before or during pregnancy and has to experience both simultaneously?  How does a woman proceed with a careful and safe pregnancy if she is faced with harsh cancer treatments?  A cancer diagnosis before or during pregnancy brings up a lot of questions and is frightening to be certain, but, there are treatments that are safe during pregnancy and both mom and baby can be well taken care of by a team of physicians.

When a pregnant woman is diagnosed with cancer the first question is often, how soon is treatment necessary?  If treatment can be delayed for a short time until after baby is born it is ideal because it provides the best possible scenario for baby’s health while hopefully not jeopardizing mom’s health either.  But, if treatment cannot be delayed, or if the options are not as clear, there are safe ways to treat mom while still protecting baby and carrying baby to full term.  The cancer itself is almost never a risk to the baby, but treatment options have to be determined based on a few factors.  Surgery to remove cancer is safe during pregnancy and while anesthesia may cross the placental barrier to the fetus it does not pose significant threat of harm to the baby.  Radiation and chemotherapy must be delayed at least until the first trimester has been completed.  The American Cancer Society points out that chemotherapy can be given during pregnancy and may even be a more safe option than delivering a baby prematurely, “One European study examined 70 children who had been exposed to chemotherapy during the second or third trimester. Researchers found that the children in the study seemed to develop just as well as children in the general population. In fact, the researchers conclude that exposing the baby to chemotherapy in the second or third trimester may be preferable to delivering the baby early. Children who were born prematurely scored lower on IQ tests than children who were carried to full term. The researchers attribute this to the premature birth, and not the mothers’ cancer or treatment. Two-thirds of the children in the study were born early, at less than 37 weeks… A separate Belgian review of breast cancer in pregnancy also concludes that delivering the baby early should be avoided if possible, and that treatment should generally be similar to that used in women who are not pregnant. But radiation is risky for the baby, and its use should be determined on an individual basis. The researchers say pregnant breast cancer patients should take the time to consult with a team of experts about the best course of treatment.”  As with a cancer patient who is not pregnant, treatment of a pregnant woman with cancer is largely determined on an individual basis and should be weighed carefully by a team of experts.

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