Learning that you have breast cancer when you are pregnant can be devastating. Approximately 1 in 3,000 pregnant women are diagnosed with breast cancer. These women often learn that they have breast cancer during routine prenatal check ups. In the past, many doctors advised women diagnosed with breast cancer during pregnancy to have abortions, however research is showing that in most cases, this is unnecessary.
What kinds of testing will be done to diagnose breast cancer during pregnancy?
If a lump or other abnormality is discovered during a breast exam, your doctor may refer you to have a mammogram or an ultrasound. These tests can help indicate whether you need further testing. If these tests show that you do need further testing, you’ll be sent to have the lump biopsied. A biopsy is done by removing cells from the lump to be examined under a microscope for cancerous cells.
If the biopsy shows malignant cells, your doctor will do an imaging scan to see whether the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. The next step is usually surgery to remove any cancerous cells. This surgery is usually on an as needed basis, and can remove part or all of the breast affected.
What kinds of treatment are considered safe during pregnancy?
Radiation therapy is one treatment for cancer that should not be done during pregnancy unless the cancer is advanced and the pregnancy is past the third month. Chemotherapy is another treatment for cancer that is best began after the first trimester. The drugs that are used for chemotherapy do not pass through the placenta in large enough amounts after this time to harm the fetus.
Can I wait until I have my baby to have treatment?
You may be able to delay some portions of treatment until after your baby is born if you have early stage breast cancer, however, treating breast cancer during pregnancy is becoming more common than waiting until the pregnancy is over or aborting the fetus. For early stage breast cancer, surgery followed by chemotherapy after the first trimester is typical, and then after birth, radiation therapy may be added. You should also not plan to breastfeed if you are undergoing chemotherapy, as these drugs will pass through your breast milk.
When can I get pregnant again?
If you have survived breast cancer and want to have a baby, doctors recommend waiting to conceive until you have completed treatment and been in remission for two years. Some cancer treatments can cause future fertility problems, so consulting a doctor while trying to conceive may be necessary.
Cancer.Net- Pregnancy and Cancer http://www.cancer.net/patient/Coping/Emotional+and+Physical+Matters/Sexual+and+Reproductive+Health/Pregnancy+and+Cancer
National Cancer Institute- http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/treatment/breast-cancer-and-pregnancy/Patient/page1
Breast Cancer.org- Pregnant Women with Breast Cancer Do No Worse than Others http://www.breastcancer.org/tips/fert_preg_adopt/new_research/20090209.jsp?gclid=CNjWmZyz-qQCFQpvbAodLkwZhQ