Cancer during pregnancy is rare, but treatment can be complicated and stressful. On an episode of High-Risk Birth Stories, guest Jamie shared her story of being diagnosed with breast cancer during her pregnancy. You can listen to that episode to hear from her experience or continue reading to learn more about cancer through pregnancy.
How Common is Cancer During Pregnancy?
Receiving a cancer diagnosis is not common during pregnancy. One reason for this is that some diagnostic tests for cancer can be harmful to a fetus, so it may be less likely for cancer to be detected during pregnancy. However many diagnostic tests can be safely performed in pregnancy, including breast ultrasounds and mammograms. In general, cancer diagnoses occur in about 1 out of every 1,000 pregnancies, or less than 1%.
Most Common Types of Cancer During Pregnancy
While cancer is not common during pregnancy overall, of patients who do receive a diagnosis, certain types of cancer are more prevalent. These include:
- Breast cancer
- Cervical cancer
- Ovarian cancer
- Hodgkin’s and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
- Thyroid cancer
- Colorectal cancer
- Melanoma (skin cancer)
Note that many of these cancers are among the most common in women at any stage of life. Pregnancy should not increase your risk of cancer. Your risk largely depends on your genetics and lifestyle. You can choose genetic counseling to understand more about your risk for developing cancer, during pregnancy or otherwise.
Will Cancer Affect My Pregnancy or Harm My Baby?
Cancer does not usually affect your baby during pregnancy, though it can make your care more complicated. As a pregnant cancer patient, you will have more appointments with your OB/GYN and oncologist than a patient would otherwise. Some cancer treatments can be harmful to a pregnancy, especially during the first trimester, so many patients must delay these treatments. For example, patients who need chemotherapy will be required to wait until after the first trimester or in some cases until after giving birth before starting treatment. Other treatments, including some surgeries, can be performed during pregnancy without causing harm to the fetus. In the case of Jamie’s lumpectomy, Dr. Fox explained “unless there’s the craziest complication in the history of lumpectomies, nothing’s gonna happen to anybody. And we’ll monitor the baby just in case.”
It is exceptionally rare for cancer to spread to the baby during pregnancy. Situations that require termination are also rare although sometimes may occur in rare cases when life-saving treatment cannot be performed in pregnancy. With these considerations in mind, early delivery can be necessary for one reason or another. Your OB/GYN or maternal fetal medicine specialist can coordinate your care with your oncologist to create the best plan for your health and the health of your baby.
Can I Breastfeed if I Have Cancer?
Chemotherapy or similar treatments can pass to the baby through breastmilk, meaning that patients who receive these treatments cannot breastfeed. With this consideration aside, a majority of patients who have cancer or have recovered from cancer can successfully breastfeed.
For breast cancer patients, however, breastfeeding is likely to be affected. In Jamie’s case, she was asked to suppress the milk production in her affected breast prior to her lumpectomy. This may vary depending on each patient’s treatment plan.
Schedule an Appointment
To learn more about cancer during pregnancy, schedule an appointment with the maternal fetal medicine specialists at Carnegie Imaging. Call our office at (212) 235-1506 or contact us online.
Carnegie Imaging for Women blogs are intended for educational purposes only and do not replace certified professional care. Medical conditions vary and change frequently. Please ask your doctor any questions you may have regarding your condition to receive a proper diagnosis or risk analysis. Thank you!