Diagnosing & treating breast tumors during pregnancy is complicated. The goal is not only to cure the cancer but also prevent the tumor from spreading to other parts of the body, especially to the unborn baby’s developing organs.
Your obstetrician and cancer care team must coordinate with each other to provide the best care to you & your baby. To date, there is no medical evidence that suggests breast cancer progressed to the fetus, yet nothing is wrong in taking medical consultation.
So, if you’re pregnant and experiencing symptoms such as breast pain, swelling around the breasts region, nipple discharge, etc. or anyone in your blood relation has/had breast cancer, consult your physician right away.
After considering your risk factor, and a quick physical examination of your breasts to determine any lump, you’ll be advised breast cancer tests. These may include PCR Master Mix to detect circulating cancer cells, X-ray, Breast ultrasound, and breast magnetic resonance imaging.
Now, let’s talk about the treatment options for expecting mothers with breast cancer. Before preparing a treatment plan, your doctor will mull over a variety of factors, which are explained in the next section.
The treatment options will depend on the following factors
- The number & size of the tumors
- The specific type of breast cancer
- Your general preference.
- How far you are in pregnancy.
- Tumour grade.
The first line of treatment when the patient is pregnant is the surgical removal of the tumor. The surgery may include mastectomy with lymph node removal or breast-conserving surgery.
Breast tumor surgery during the early stage of cancer is safe during pregnancy, although anesthesia poses some risk to the baby. You can discuss all the possible risks associated with your surgeon.
Chemotherapy is generally not advised by the doctors during the first trimester of the pregnancy when the internal organs of the body are developing. Chemo is safer during the second & third trimester, but not recommended in the final three weeks of pregnancy.
The use of chemotherapy drugs largely depends upon the type & the extent of breast cancer. In some cases, the doctors may like to wait for the delivery to start the treatment.
Radiation is another breast cancer treatment, but higher-doses of radiation may pose some risk to the baby. These may include
- Childhood Cancer
- Birth Defects
- Slow Fetal Growth
Mastectomy While Being Pregnant
Surgery is the primary method of treatment for breast cancer, regardless if you’re pregnant or not. Lumpectomy is typically given in combination with radiation therapy, but radiation is not advised until the delivery.
Otherwise, mastectomy is usually advised. In this, the surgeon will analyze lymph nodes under the arm to check whether the tumor has spread. Your obstetrician, anesthesiologist & surgeon will get together to determine the safest time & perform the surgery.
Breastfeeding and Cancer Treatment
Yes, it is safe to breastfeed during pregnancy. However, tissue scar and reduced milk volume make it difficult to breastfeed. If the tumor is on one breast, then you can breastfeed your baby from the unaffected breast.
Chemotherapy drugs, targeted therapy, and hormonal treatment won’t pass on the cancer to the baby via the breast milk. To discuss any risk factor, you must speak to your oncologist & your obstetrician to make sure it’s entirely safe.
Diagnosed with breast cancer while being pregnant is incredibly stressful. The support of your family and your therapist can help you pass through these challenging times. Share your story with us in the comments section below: