Cancer & Pregnancy
Cancer during pregnancy is rare, but because women are waiting longer to get pregnant, the number of women diagnosed with cancer while pregnant is increasing.
Can I develop cancer during pregnancy?
Cancer during pregnancy is rare; however, it does happen. Sometimes pregnancy can uncover disease earlier than it would otherwise be found. If you have a Pap test done during your pregnancy, it can detect cervical cancer. An ultrasound done during your pregnancy may detect ovarian cancer at an early stage. Sometimes, a woman discovers she is pregnant during cancer treatments during routine blood work!
The universe works in mysterious ways. It is understandable to worry that cancer or its treatment will affect the well-being of you and your baby. Regardless of the journey, we at Unity Maternal Fetal Medicine are you to support you.
What are the most common types of cancer diagnosed during pregnancy?
Again, we must remember that pregnancy does not cause cancer, and pregnant women do not have an increased risk of developing cancer. However, we are dedicated to education, so statistically speaking, some of the most common cancers diagnosed during pregnancy include:
- Breast (the most common)
- Malignant melanoma
- Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin lymphoma
Brain, bone, and lung cancer can also occur when a woman is pregnant, but these cancers are very rare.
Are cancer treatments safe for the fetus?
Some cancer treatments are safe for the fetus during pregnancy or only during certain times of pregnancy. Other cancer treatments are not safe for the fetus at any time. During the discussion of treatment options, a mother may have to make that heartbreaking decision to choose between her baby and herself. This is where guidance from your oncologist and team of specialists is important. We encourage you to give your doctors extra information to best manage your cancer and ask questions whenever you are not clear.
The low radiation in an x-ray used to diagnose cancer is too low to harm the fetus. The standard protocol for every facility providing this service is to utilize a lead shield to cover a pregnant woman’s abdomen during CT scans and x-rays. CT scans use higher levels of radiation, and the abdomen or pelvis should only be scanned if necessary to plan your cancer therapy.
Whether these tests can harm the fetus or not depends on the:
- Stage of your pregnancy
- Number and type of x-rays used
- Amount of radiation used
This is why ensuring you have completely open communication channels with your oncology medical provider is important! If this is your scenario, then be sure to advocate for yourself. Communicate, communicate, communicate! If you need additional support and an advocate, schedule a consultation with Dr. Stanley-Christian.
Is it safe to breastfeed my baby if I have cancer?
Women being treated for cancer are often advised NOT to breastfeed. This is a standard recommendation, for chemotherapy and other drugs can be transferred to your baby, which could potentially be harmful. Additionally, radioactive medication (such as radioactive iodine used to treat thyroid cancer) could get into breast milk and possibly harm the baby. Cancer cells CANNOT pass to your baby through breast milk.
The above considerations are to ensure that no medications are passed into your baby that they do not need. If you have cancer, you need certain medications. Your baby does not. Simple as that. Every cancer journey is incredibly unique. Open communication with your healthcare team is an important thing of which you are in control.
Request an appointment in Winter Garden, Florida
If you have cancer and are thinking of getting pregnant, request a preconception consultation using the form below. If you have cancer, are pregnant, and wish to speak to an OB/GYN who is certified in Maternal-Fetal Medicine, schedule an appointment with Dr. Heather Stanley-Christian to receive support from a triple board certified physician specialist who will support you on your journey.