How to handle breast cancer in pregnancy

Dr. Shiphrah Kuria explains

Cancer during pregnancy is uncommon, but when it does occur it presents several unique challenges. Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers in women and once in a while it may be diagnosed during pregnancy. Pregnancy however does not have any dramatic influences on the development of breast cancer; the critical issue is how advanced the cancer is at the time of diagnosis. Sometimes interrupting the pregnancy may not improve the cancer condition.

The drawback with a pregnancy condition however, is the probable delay that could occur in diagnosing breast cancers, especially because the normal breast changes occurring during pregnancy and breast-feeding may interfere with the results of a cancer test.

It is important for any woman of childbearing age suspected or confirmed to be having cancer to avoid getting pregnant until she has talked to her doctor.

Questions commonly asked about cancer in pregnancy

Does the cancer adversely affect the pregnancy? Will the cancer or its treatment pose risks to the feotus? Should pregnancy be terminated to give way for treatment of the cancer? After the successful treatment of cancer, what advice should be given to the mother, concerning future pregnancies?

Precautions necessary

Precautions necessary to avoid due harm to the baby will: be taken immediately diagnosis indicates the existence of breast cancer. The doctor’s recommendations will normally depend on a set of factors, among them the extent of the cancerous growth.

Surgical treatment 

Surgical treatment should not be delayed because of the pregnancy, since risk to the baby is minimal. Breast surgery may be recommended and it usually involves removing all of the affected breast (mastectomy).


Radiotherapy on the other hand is not recommended during pregnancy because of the adverse effects it can have on the unborn baby.


Chemotherapy (use of anti-cancer drugs) may be used cautiously after the first trimester when the fetus’ organs are already formed. Certain drugs are avoided to reduce the chances of adverse effects on the baby. The mother must be prepared to accept any adverse effects during pregnancy that may result from chemotherapy.

Different health centers may have different policies on the use of chemotherapy in pregnancy. If the pregnancy is in the early stages the mother will be counseled on the risks involved and the various options available. The necessary decisions are usually difficult and her family and friends should offer her as much support as possible. One’s faith is also important and religious consultations may be necessary before the mother-to-be can make a final decision. Medical personnel should understand that such decisions may take some time, and therefore need to be patient. On the other hand, the patient must be made to understand the risks of a delayed decision.


After cancer has been successfully treated, some women are able to get pregnant. Nevertheless it is advisable to wait for two to three years to watch out for cancer recurrences, before getting pregnant. Once a baby is born after cancer treatment, breast feeding can be done safely from the unaffected breast.

END: PG 1/28-29

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