Breast Cancer Treatment During Pregnancy

How is Breast Cancer Found During Pregnancy?

The majority of breast cancers in pregnant women are found when a woman notices a lump or change in her breast or during a clinical breast exam. Pregnant women may get a clinical breast exam as part of their prenatal care.

Mammography screening isn’t used in pregnant women because the radiation may harm the fetus. 

Is Breast Cancer Treatment Safe During Pregnancy?

Pregnant women can safely be treated for breast cancer. It’s generally safe to have surgery for breast cancer during pregnancy. Chemotherapy seems to be safe for the baby during the second or third trimester of pregnancy, but not in the first trimester. Other breast cancer treatments, such as hormone therapy, targeted therapy, and radiation therapy, are more likely to harm the baby and aren’t usually given during pregnancy.

What Are the Treatment Options for Pregnant Women with Breast Cancer?

Because some breast cancer treatments can be harmful to the fetus, your treatment plan, and the timing of your treatments are chosen to treat your cancer and protect the fetus. Your treatment plan will depend on the size of the tumor, its location, and the term of your pregnancy. Treatment options for breast cancer during pregnancy include:

Surgery

Surgery is the first-line treatment for breast cancer, even if you’re pregnant. Whether it’s breast-conserving surgery (lumpectomy) or mastectomy with lymph node removal, surgery for early-stage breast cancer, surgery is considered safe during pregnancy. Although the anesthesia used during surgery can reach the fetus through the placenta, it doesn’t appear to cause birth defects or serious pregnancy problems.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy generally isn’t used in the first trimester of pregnancy because the baby’s internal organs are still developing. However, studies have shown that it’s safer to use some chemo drugs during the second and third trimesters and that it doesn’t raise the risk of birth defects, stillbirths, or health problems shortly after birth. That said, it can raise the risk of early delivery and, as of now, researchers still don’t know if these children will have any long-term effects. Chemo isn’t usually given during the last three weeks of pregnancy. 

The kind of cancer you have and how aggressive it is will determine if chemo is recommended. Some women wait until after delivery to start chemo.

Learn More About Breast Cancer

If you have breast cancer during pregnancy, there are treatment options that are safe. Make sure to talk with your doctor about which option is best for you. 

Visit Baptist Health to learn more about breast cancer and what causes it, or take our free online assessment to learn your breast cancer risk.

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