Breast Cancer During Pregnancy

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Can a woman get breast cancer during pregnancy?

It is possible to be diagnosed with breast cancer during pregnancy, although it is rare and the breast cancer is not caused by the pregnancy. Women who are diagnosed with breast cancer during pregnancy have tremendous additional strain due to concern for the safety of the unborn child. It can be a traumatic and extremely difficult situation, but there is still hope for both mother and child, thanks to the many treatment options available.

If you are pregnant and have been diagnosed, be sure to communicate carefully with your obstetric care team as well as your oncology team, and it never hurts to verify that they have open communication with each other. Your medical team will take extra care in designing the treatment plan that best controls the breast cancer while protecting your unborn child.

What cancer treatments are safest during pregnancy?

Your treatment plan will depend on the size of the tumor, its location, and the term of your pregnancy. As with women who are not pregnant, surgery is usually the first step for treating early-stage breast cancer. Surgery during pregnancy can be safely performed with little risk to your unborn child, so your medical team will most likely proceed by removing the lump with a lumpectomy or mastectomy, and possibly some lymph nodes from under the arm.

Chemotherapy may be a treatment option, depending on your cancer type and the stage of your pregnancy. The effects of hormone therapy on unborn children is not entirely understood. Because of this, if hormone therapy is prescribed, it will most likely be used only after the baby is born.

Although the cancer itself cannot spread to and harm the unborn child, sometimes the best treatment plan for the mother may put the unborn child at risk. These decisions will require the expertise and consultation between your obstetrician, surgeon, medical oncologist, and radiation oncologist. You will also need the emotional support of family and friends and may benefit from the professional assistance of a skilled counselor or psychologist.

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