Pregnancy and cancer
Being pregnant is an emotional and an eventful time. If you are diagnosed with cancer during your pregnancy, it is likely to add a lot more questions and concerns.
You may feel frightened and isolated, and wonder how cancer and its treatments will affect you and your baby.
Cancer and pregnancy explained
Cancer during pregnancy is rare. There are only one or two women, per 1,000, who are diagnosed with cancer during their pregnancy.
The most common cancers which may occur during pregnancy are:
- Gestational Trophoblastic Tumours (GTT)
Cancer rarely affects the baby or their development, and there are several safe treatments you can have during your pregnancy.
Sometimes cancer can take a little longer to diagnose during pregnancy, as hormones cause some changes, such as breast swelling, tenderness, new lumps, nausea and feeling tired.
If you have symptoms you’re concerned about, then do discuss with your doctor.
Cancer and your pregnancy
If you’re diagnosed with cancer during your pregnancy, it will be a huge and understandable shock.
Family and friends are also likely to be anxious on your behalf. It can be a lot to take in for everyone.
If you are seeing your doctor for symotoms always let your doctor know if there’s a chance you may be pregnant, as it may change the possible tests and treatments for any condition.
If you are diagnosed wiht cancer whilst you are pregnant the treatment options may differ, depending on:
- how many weeks pregnant you are
- the type of cancer you have
- how fast the cancer may be growing
- if the cancer has spread
Your specialist team
With any cancer, your treatment plan and care will be discussed by a team of specialists at regular meetings.
If you are pregnant, the team will also include an obstetrician – a doctor who specialises in pregnancy, and childbirth.
It’s important that your GP, midwife and health visitor are are also involved, as they will be monitoring you too. You will continue to be followed up closely once the baby is born.
There may be some tests you cannot have because of risk to the baby, particularly in the first three months.
Your specialist doctors will let you know of specific tests and their risks, and guide you through any treatment planning and discussion.
Most tests can be carried out safely as the risk is small.
What are the risks for the baby and me?
Your first thoughts may be about the future, and the impact of treatments on you and the baby.
There may be some difficult decisions to be made, about when to start treatment, which treatments are safe, and your own health and wellbeing.
In many cases treatments can wait until the second trimester, or later. Researchers have found that cancer doesn’t appear to grow any quicker, because of a pregnancy.
If you do decide to delay treatment then you would be monitored closely during the pregnancy, and start treatment once the baby is born.
Sometimes the baby is delivered earlier to let treatment begin. This is something your doctor will discuss with you.
However, sometimes, if the cancer is a fast growing type, it may be that a termination is discussed. This is because some treatments can affect a baby’s development in the first trimester. You will be fully supported in your decision making as this is a very personal choice.
It’s important for you and your family to have support through your pregnancy and beyond.
There is so much information to absorb, at a time when you feel your most vulnerable. Many people find it helpful to talk through their feelings and responses to what is happening around them;
- Talk through things with those close to you, family and friends, if you can. They may be very worried, but also want to help and support you, both practically and emotionally.
- Your specialist health care team will understand that you may have fears, worries and questions. Let them know how you feel, especially if you’re feeling low or struggling to cope.
- If you have other children to think about, then speaking to others (teachers, GP, health visitor, school/college) can help provide them with support too. Maggie’s also offers support for parents and families, so you’d be welcome to visit and discuss your worries.
- Ask about emotional support from others. The hospital team can refer you to a counsellor or psychologist to talk things through. There is a charity called ‘Mummy’s Star’ who provide support for pregnant women and their families from diagnosis onwards. You can also drop into your local Maggie’s centre for both emotional and practical support, including benefit advice. Talking to others about your cancer and pregnancy can help give back a sense of control, and help you build supportive relationships as your treatment progresses.
- You can also find support and advice from your specific cancer type websites, as they will have specialist knowledge about pregnancy and treatments.
Talk to our healthcare team about what side effects to expect during your cancer treatment, particularly with your pregnancy, and ask your healthcare team about who you should contact when you are concerned about a new or current symptom.
Come in to your nearerst Maggie's Centre and talk to one of our cancer support specialists and meet other visitors.
Read and join our online discussions and blogs – there are others going through similar experiences and it can help you feel less alone.