Forty weeks can seem like a lifetime to an expectant mother. To pass the time, many mothers-to-be concentrate on picking a name and preparing their home for the baby. But what happens when cancer is thrown into the mix? As if becoming a new parent isn’t stressful enough, now you are dealing with cancer treatments and everything that comes with it.
Developing cancer during pregnancy is rare – only one out of 1,000 pregnancies is diagnosed each year. If you are diagnosed with cancer while pregnant, treatment options are available if you and your oncologists decide treatment during pregnancy is right for you. Cancer during pregnancy often can be managed, and you can deliver a healthy baby. The disease rarely affects the baby while in utero.
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Common Cancer Diagnosis During Pregnancy
The most common cancers diagnosed during pregnancy include:
- Breast cancer
- Cervical cancer
- Hodgkin lymphoma
- Non-Hodgkin lymphoma
- Thyroid cancer
- Gestational trophoblastic tumor
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Cancer Treatment Options
Your health care team can include your obstetric provider, oncologists, and maternal-fetal medicine (MFM) specialists. With you and your unborn baby’s safety in mind, your oncologists will work closely with MFM specialists and consider a number of factors before recommending a treatment plan. They will evaluate the type of cancer, baby’s gestational age, and your decision to be treated or not treated during pregnancy.
Types of cancer treatments used during pregnancy may include:
- Chemotherapy – If administered during the second or third trimester, some chemotherapy drugs have been found to not harm the fetus.
- Surgery – The safest of the three main types of cancer treatment for pregnant women, surgery is preferred over chemotherapy and radiation.
- Radiation – Radiation is rarely used, even during the second and third trimesters, because radiation may harm the baby.
Gestational age is a major factor in treating cancer during pregnancy.
During the first trimester, or first three months, treatments may be more likely to affect the baby’s development. Typically oncologists delay treatment until the second or third trimester.
Most importantly, you have options. Although more women are choosing to be treated for their cancer during pregnancy, oncologists are still learning how therapies affect mother and child. And many mothers choose to wait until after the baby is born to be treated.
Maternal-fetal medicine specialists can help to put mom and baby’s risks and benefits of treatment options, and timing during pregnancy, into perspective. Your health care team will factor your wishes into your treatment plan, so it is best to openly discuss your choices to help ensure you and your baby receive the most appropriate care for your situation.
To learn more about cancer and cancer treatments during pregnancy, get in touch with an expert with the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center. Read more about the latest developments in the field of oncology online or schedule an appointment to speak with someone who can answer your questions.
The UPMC Adult Congenital Heart Disease Center is a joint program between UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute. We are located at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside. We provide long-term care for adolescents, young adults, maternal patients, and adults with congenital heart disease. Our goal is to provide complete care from your childhood all the way through your life.