Coping With A Cancer Diagnosis During Pregnancy

Dealing With A Cancer Diagnosis During PregnancyReceiving a cancer diagnosis during pregnancy is devastating for a mother-to-be. At a time when you should be enjoying your growing miracle, you are now faced with a life-threatening illness. A cancer diagnosis isn’t very common in pregnancy, with one in 1,000 pregnant women diagnosed. Breast cancer is a leading cause of cancer in women and occurs in about one in 3,000 to 10,000 deliveries.

Common cancers diagnosed in pregnancy include cervical cancer, ovarian cancer, thyroid cancer, colorectal cancer, melanoma, leukaemia and Hodgkin’s and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. A diagnosis of brain, lung and bone cancer is extremely rare.

Your pregnancy is unlikely to affect your cancer prognosis and pregnancy hormones won’t accelerate tumour growth. Some cancer treatments may pose a risk to your unborn baby and this will be carefully assessed by your doctor, based on your individual circumstances.

Cancer Symptoms During Pregnancy

Because cancer symptoms can be similar to those of pregnancy, it is important that you seek medical advice if you are concerned about your health. The following symptoms may present themselves:

  • Breast changes
  • Bloating
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Rectal bleeding

How Is A Diagnosis Made?

If your doctor suspects cancer he or she will order various tests before making a diagnosis. These include a pap smear, x-rays (a protective lead shield will be placed on your stomach during the process), a CT or MRI scan, ultrasound or biopsy (where a small tissue sample is taken for testing in a laboratory).

The Impact Of Cancer On Your Pregnancy

You will be under the care of both a gynaecologist and an oncologist. In most cases a termination of the pregnancy will not be needed, but you may need to deliver your baby earlier than anticipated. Treatment options available will depend on how far along you are in the pregnancy, if the cancer is diagnosed at an early or late stage, and what type of cancer you have.

  • You may be able to delay treatment to the third trimester, or even after the birth
  • Treatment options during pregnancy include surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Your doctor will advise you on the best treatment options, based on your individual diagnosis and what is best for your baby
  • Doctors aren’t exactly sure how various cancers can impact the foetus. In some types of cancer, the cancer cells can cross the placenta but this rarely occurs. Your baby will be assessed carefully after the birth and a paediatrician will check for early signs of cancer. If baby is healthy, no treatment will be required
  • After the birth speak to your doctor about breastfeeding options. Some women are able to breastfeed but it does depend on your whether you are currently receiving cancer treatment and the type of treatment or if you have recovered from cancer. Your doctor will advise you

Image: Photo by Alex Holyoake on Unsplash.

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