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Cancer During Pregnancy

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Introduction

Pregnancy is a beautiful phase in a women’s life, and to be hit by a deadly disease during this phase can be heartbreaking. But you need not panic, with the advancement of science and medicine, successful pregnancy and childbirth is possible with cancer. Cancer doesn’t grow faster with pregnancy. Most women who have cancer can give birth successfully. But it is essential to be under strict medical supervision because specific cancer treatment can be unsafe for the baby’s health.

Cancer during pregnancy is a rare phenomenon. About one in a thousand women get affected by cancer during pregnancy in a year. But it is estimated that cancer during pregnancy can increase as women are delaying pregnancy. Age increases the risk of most cancers. About 1 in 3000 women get affected by breast cancer during pregnancy. Melanoma, cervical cancer, leukaemia and Hodgkin’s and non-Hodgkin’s lymphomas are the most common types of cancers during pregnancy. A rare type of cancer known as malignant gestational trophoblastic tumours (GTD) is related to pregnancy. The tumours occur in the sac that surrounds the baby and are mostly curable.

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What are the Causes of Cancer during Pregnancy?

Some basic facts regarding cancer during pregnancy:

  • ● Pregnancy does not lead to cancer; neither does cancer grow faster with pregnancy.
  • ● Cancer is a mutation in cells, which can happen to anyone irrespective of being pregnant.

Sometimes hormonal changes during pregnancy can cause certain cancers such as melanoma, but that too is rare.

What are the Symptoms of Cancer during Pregnancy?

Certain cancer symptoms are similar to those of pregnancy, thereby delaying the diagnosis of cancer during pregnancy. Some symptoms that are common to both pregnancy and cancer are:

  • ● Headaches
  • ● Bloating
  • ● Vomiting
  • ● Excessive fatigue
  • ● Nausea
  • ● Rectal bleeding
  • ● Changes in the breast.

What are the Diagnosis of Cancer during Pregnancy?

If you are diagnosed with cancer during pregnancy, your doctor will advise and conduct the following tests:

  • Computed tomography (CT) scan: A CT scan will give detailed images of all your vital organs through an X-ray machine. The images can be seen on a computer screen. Although CT scan of the chest and head are safe during pregnancy, the CT scan of the abdomen and pelvis are done only if necessary. It is also necessary that you wear a lead shield while getting a CT scan done during pregnancy.
  • Ultrasound: It is considered safe to get an ultrasound done for cancer during pregnancy. It will give you computerised images of vital organs.
  • X-ray: Your doctor will also get an x-ray done if he suspects that you have cancer during pregnancy.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): MRI does not use radiation for the images and is considered safe during pregnancy.
  • Biopsy: During a biopsy, your doctor will collect a tissue sample from the suspected location of cancer to test in the lab. A biopsy is considered safe during pregnancy.
  • Other diagnostic examinations: Your doctor might conduct other tests such as Pap test or other routine tests if he suspects cancer during pregnancy.

What are the Treatment of Cancer during Pregnancy?

Gone are the days when women had to terminate their pregnancy if affected by cancer during pregnancy. With the advancement in medicine, most women can successfully give birth while fighting with cancer. But constant discussions and medical check-ups are essential through the entire journey of pregnancy. You need to discuss the pros and cons of cancer treatment with your doctor before deciding to keep the baby. The treatment of cancer during pregnancy depends on certain factors like the type of cancer you have, cancer location, the stage of cancer, and the stage of your pregnancy.

The treatment plan for cancer during pregnancy include:

  • Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy involves the use of certain toxic chemicals to kill malignant cells. However, anti-cancer drugs like chemo can negatively affect the fetus, such as congenital disabilities, especially if given during the first trimester of pregnancy. Chemotherapy is mostly safe when given in the second and third trimesters of pregnancy.
  • Radiation: Radiation therapy is given to destroy the cancer cells. Radiation can also be harmful to the foetus if given during the first trimester of pregnancy. Radiation can be given successfully in the second and third trimesters, but it depends on the type of cancer and the dosage of radiation.
  • Surgery: Surgery is mostly safe for the mother and child, especially if conducted after the first trimester of pregnancy. In the case of breast cancer, surgery could lead to mastectomy (removal of breast tissues with surgery), which can affect your ability to breastfeed. Therefore, consultation with your doctor is necessary at every step if you have cancer during pregnancy.

What is the Result of Treatment?

Many women choose to delay the treatment of cancer until the last trimester of pregnancy for the baby’s safety. But you should not delay your treatment and act according to the advice given by your doctor. Cancer during pregnancy is a rare phenomenon, but it does happen to some women. You should never delay your treatment because of pregnancy because it may affect your overall prognosis. Many women give birth to healthy babies, even with cancer. Talk to your doctor and discuss the best possible treatment you can receive if you have cancer during pregnancy.

Risks of Surgery in Cancer during Pregnancy?

Surgery is considered the safest treatment for cancer during pregnancy. The doctors remove the tumour during surgery, usually without causing any harm to the foetus.

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FAQ's

What are the Effects of Cancer on the Foetus?

Most types of cancers usually do not have a direct effect on the Foetus. However, some forms of Cancer might spread from the mother to the Foetus. Your doctor will take all the possible measures to stop the spread of Cancer from mother to child. Cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiation may negatively affect the fetus if given in the first trimester.

What are the Effects of Cancer on Bbreastfeeding?

Cancer does not have any direct adverse effects on breastfeeding. Chemotherapy of certain cancer-treating drugs can transfer to the baby while breastfeeding. Therefore, it is advised that you do not breastfeed while on cancer treatment.

Does Cancer Grow Faster When Pregnant?

Cancer during pregnancy is very rare. Pregnancy neither causes Cancer nor makes it grow faster.

Do Doctors Check for Cancer During Pregnancy?

Current research shows that certain prenatal tests may help diagnose Cancer during pregnancy.

What Happens if you have Cervical Cancer During Pregnancy?

If you are more than three months pregnant, your doctor will wait until delivery and then start treating cervical Cancer. If you are less than three months pregnant, your doctor will straight away begin treatment.

What Type of Cancers are Most Common During Pregnancy?

The most common form of Cancer during pregnancy is breast cancer. The other forms of cancer common during pregnancy are Cervical Cancer, leukaemia, ovarian cancer, malignant melanoma, colorectal cancer, thyroid cancer, Hodgkin’s lymphoma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

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