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Being diagnosed with breast cancer during pregnancy could be very difficult for mothers-to-be. Breast cancer is the most common kind of cancer diagnosed during pregnancy, affecting as much as 1 in every 3000 women. Also, it is extremely hard to detect, as the breasts undergo a lot of changes during pregnancy. That is why, majority of the breast cancer cases are detected at advanced stages. Due to this, more and more doctors are recommending breast exams as a part of normal pregnancy check-ups.
Although the modern day medicines and technology are making cancers conquerable, the risks reach an all-time high during pregnancy, as the doctors have an added responsibility of keeping a foetus safe and healthy inside the mother.
There are many things to be considered while treating breast cancer during pregnancy. This article will tell you everything you need to know about how to deal with breast cancer during pregnancy.
How Is Breast Cancer Diagnosed During Pregnancy?
Breast cancer is usually diagnosed later in the pregnancy as the symptoms of cancer are similar to pregnancy changes that occur in a woman's breasts such as breast tenderness, or dense breasts. However, your doctor may advice you to go for a breast exam as well along with the routine pregnancy check-ups.
If they find a suspicious lump in the breast, doctors usually take it further by doing a breast ultrasound rather than a mammography, which is said to be harmful for the growing foetus.
A biopsy is another safe way to detect breast cancer. Upon finding lumps in the breasts, your doctor may extract a small part of the tissue and study it under a microscope to detect cancerous cells.
Does Cancer Affect Your Baby?
Once diagnosed with breast cancer, the baby is probably the first thing on everyone's mind. To put speculations under rest, breast cancer has no immediate effect on the foetus. If the cancer cells manage to pass through the barrier of the placenta, they are immediately destroyed by the foetus' developing immune system.
However, there are extremely rare cases where the cancer cells of the mother have passed on to the foetus. But the fact has not been backed by many studies.
However, danger to the foetus lies in the treatment options of the mother. Chemotherapy and radiation treatment are said to have an adverse affect on the growing baby. Therefore, usually the treatment is stalled until after delivery.
Can You Undergo Chemotherapy During Pregnancy?
Certain chemotherapy drugs are safe to be used during pregnancy. However, the process should be avoided during the first trimester as chemotherapy is known to affect the development of the baby and also increases the chances of miscarriage.
However, chemotherapy is known to be relatively safer when done in the second and third trimester, with low birth weight and early delivery being the only issues to look out for. Just to stay safe, doctors may discontinue the chemotherapy sessions three to four weeks before delivery to avoid any complications at birth.
What Are The Other Treatment Options Available?
Treatment of breast cancer during pregnancy may largely depend on the size of the tumour, its location and also how far along you are in your pregnancy.
If the cancer is detected early in the pregnancy, the best way is surgery to remove the tumour. This method is considered to be the safest as it has absolutely no effect on the unborn baby.
The two types of surgeries include mastectomy and breast conserving surgery. Mastectomy involves removing the breasts completely in order to prevent the cancer from spreading. However, if breast-conserving surgery is chosen, you may have to follow it up with either radiation or chemotherapy.
Radiotherapy is another treatment for breast cancer, which is not at all recommended during any stage of pregnancy as it poses a huge risk to the baby. If radiotherapy is the only option given to you by your doctor, they may have to wait until after the delivery to carry out the procedure.
Therefore, if the cancer is diagnosed at a later stage, the treatment is postponed until delivery. In case of breast cancer being diagnosed early in the pregnancy, the most preferred method to treating it is through surgery.
Will You Be Able To Breastfeed Your Baby?
Breastfeeding your baby can be quite tricky while having breast cancer. If you have had a surgery to remove the cancer and do not need chemotherapy or radiotherapy to follow it up, you may be safe to breastfeed your baby. However, if you are undergoing chemotherapy and radiotherapy, the drugs used during the treatment may seep into the breast milk. Therefore, breastfeeding is usually not recommended.
Breast cancer does not in any case harm your baby or affect the pregnancy if it is treated in the right way. There are a majority of success stories where women have given birth to healthy babies along with beating cancer. As long as you have the best emotional support from your family and a good team of doctors, everything may turn out just fine.