Breast Cancer During Pregnancy
Learning you have been diagnosed with breast cancer while pregnant can be surprising, scary, and stressful. Because of changes to a woman’s body during pregnancy, detecting breast cancer can be complicated. Thickening of the breasts makes it harder to spot smaller lumps, resulting in diagnosis only after the disease has already progressed. Because of this, it is extra important to keep up with breast exams throughout pregnancy. Any changes to the breasts or suspicious symptoms should be discussed with a doctor. If you are diagnosed with breast cancer during your pregnancy, you may be worried about which treatment options are best for you and your baby. Be sure to communicate carefully with your healthcare team, as well as your family, to ensure you make the correct decision for you.
Is Breast Cancer Treatment Safe During Pregnancy?
It is generally safe for pregnant women to seek treatment for breast cancer, however, some types of treatment may need to be delayed until after the pregnancy. For example, hormone therapy, targeted therapy, and radiation therapy are all known to be harmful to the baby. While chemotherapy is safe for both mother and child during the second and third trimesters, it is not recommended during the first trimester. If a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer early on into her pregnancy and requires chemotherapy, it may be recommended to end the pregnancy in order to have the best survival chances for the mother. In the unfortunate event that the best interests of the mother and baby conflict, a counselor or therapist should be part of the patient’s healthcare team to manage the emotional stress of the family. Undergoing surgery, such as a lumpectomy or mastectomy, while pregnant is generally considered safe, but specific treatment recommendations will depend on:
- Size and location of the tumor
- Metastatic tumors
- Patient’s gestational age
- Patient’s overall health
Does Pregnancy Affect Breast Cancer Survival Rate?
While pregnancy can make it difficult to detect and treat breast cancer, most studies have shown it does not make a difference in the outcome. In the case of more advanced breast cancers, some doctors believe that ending the pregnancy may help slow the progression of the disease. However, there is no concrete evidence that proves this plays an active role in a woman’s survival outcome. Delaying necessary cancer treatments due to pregnancy has also not been shown to affect the mother’s health. Additionally, there is no evidence that shows the cancer can spread to or harm the baby.
Maintaining regular appointments with your OBGYN and performing self breast examinations are all helpful in early detection of breast cancer, especially while pregnant. If you detect a change that concerns you, be sure to discuss it with your doctor right away. Remember, the earlier cancer is detected, the better the survival rate, do not wait to talk to your doctor if you have a concern.