If you are diagnosed with cancer while you’re pregnant, it is perfectly normal to be worried about your health and your baby’s health – and about what course of action you should take. Being diagnosed with cancer during pregnancy is uncommon, but it does happen.
It is important to find a team of doctors who can properly diagnose the cancer and then develop a plan to treat the cancer in a way that is safe for both you and your baby.
Diagnosing Cancer During Pregnancy
The most common cancer diagnoses during pregnancy are:
- Cervical cancer
- Thyroid cancer
- Hodgkin’s and Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
- Gestational trophoblastic tumors
Many symptoms of cancer, such as headaches, bloating, changes in breasts, and rectal bleeding are common symptoms of normal pregnancy as well. Therefore, a pregnant woman may not know she has cancer because she thinks her symptoms are related to the pregnancy.
That being said, sometimes a pregnancy can actually reveal cancer which may not have otherwise revealed itself that early. For example, when a woman becomes pregnant, her doctor will perform a pap smear – which may uncover cervical cancer. A pregnant woman’s ultrasound can find ovarian cancer that may have otherwise gone undiagnosed.
If your doctor suspects you have cancer, your medical team will assess which diagnostic tests to give you in order to keep you and your baby safe. For example, research has shown that the level of radiation in X-rays is low and should not harm a fetus, as long as a lead shield is worn to cover the stomach area.
Other tests such as MRI, ultrasound, and biopsy are also considered safe during pregnancy. CT scans of the head and chest are usually safe during pregnancy, but CT scans of the abdomen or pelvis are not – so they should only be done if absolutely necessary and if there are no diagnostic alternatives.
What Are Cancer Treatment Options for Pregnant Women?
Having cancer during your pregnancy will require a team of specializing doctors, such as an oncologist and an obstetrician who specializes in high-risk pregnancies. The oncologist and the obstetrician will consult with each other to see which treatment option is best for your cancer, but won’t harm your baby.
There are several options available, such as surgery, chemotherapy, or delaying treatment until after you give birth. Let’s discuss those options:
SURGERY FOR CANCER DURING PREGNANCY
Surgery is when the doctor removes the tumor and some surrounding healthy tissue in order to eliminate the cancer. Surgery poses little risk to the growing baby, so it is considered the safest cancer treatment during all stages of pregnancy.
CHEMOTHERAPY DURING PREGNANCY
In many cancer treatments, a doctor will use chemotherapy to destroy cancer cells; however, during pregnancy, chemotherapy must be done sparingly and only during certain times in the pregnancy. For example, it should not be done in the first three months (first trimester) of pregnancy because of the risks it poses to the fetus.
During the second and third trimester, it is somewhat safer to give most types of chemotherapy, since the placenta acts as a barrier between the woman and her fetus. However, chemotherapy in the late stages of pregnancy may cause side effects which may harm the baby. For example, chemotherapy can cause low blood counts in the mother, thus increasing the risk of infection.
Women who get chemotherapy after they give birth are advised not to breastfeed, as chemotherapy can transfer through breast milk.
DELAYING CANCER TREATMENT WHILE PREGNANT
In some cases, doctors will choose to delay treatment, especially during the first three months of pregnancy when the fetus is more fragile. Treatment may also be delayed until after the woman gives birth if the cancer is diagnosed toward the end of the pregnancy.
Certain treatments such as aggressive radiation therapy will be delayed until after pregnancy because of the risk it poses to the fetus.
Can Cancer Spread to My Baby?
Only a few cancers are known to spread from the mother to the baby, including melanoma, small-cell lung cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and leukemia. If there is a chance that the cancer may have spread to your baby, then your doctors will closely monitor your baby and watch for early signs of cancer.
Miami Cancer Treatment Center
Being diagnosed with cancer while you’re pregnant can be scary. Fortunately, there are safe and effective treatments that can help with your cancer while keeping your baby safe.
The key is to find a team of doctors you trust. The caring and knowledgeable doctors and nurses at the CyberKnife Center of Miami are here to answer any questions you have, and to work with your obstetrician to safely treat your cancer.
To make an appointment, call our Miami office at (800) 204-0455 or (305) 279-2900, or you can fill out ourand we’ll get back to you. We look forward to serving you and keeping you healthy during this exciting, wonderful time of your life.