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Cancer During Pregnancy

By

Lara A. Friel

, MD, PhD, University of Texas Health Medical School at Houston, McGovern Medical School

Last full review/revision Oct 2021
CLICK HERE FOR THE PROFESSONAL VERSION

Because cancer tends to be life threatening and because delays in treatment may reduce the likelihood of successful treatment, cancer is usually treated the same way whether the woman is pregnant or not. Some of the usual treatments (surgery, chemotherapy drugs, and radiation therapy) may harm the fetus. Thus, some women may consider abortion. However, treatments can sometimes be timed so that risk to the fetus is reduced.

Rectal cancer

Rectal cancer Colorectal Cancer Family history and some dietary factors (low fiber, high fat) increase a person’s risk of colorectal cancer. Typical symptoms include bleeding during a bowel movement, fatigue, and weakness... read more Colorectal Cancer may require removal of the uterus (hysterectomy) to be sure that all the cancer is removed. In such cases, cesarean delivery may be done as early as 28 weeks of pregnancy so that hysterectomy can be done and aggressive cancer treatment can be started.

Cervical cancer

If pregnant women have an abnormal Papanicolaou (Pap) test, doctors examine the cervix with a binocular magnifying lens (colposcopy Colposcopy Sometimes doctors recommend screening tests, which are tests that are done to look for disorders in people who have no symptoms. If women have symptoms related to the reproductive system (gynecologic... read more Colposcopy ). Colposcopy does not harm the fetus or affect the pregnancy. Doctors usually consult an expert when doing the colposcopy to help them determine whether they should take a sample of any abnormal tissue to be examined under a microscope (biopsy Cervix or vagina Sometimes doctors recommend screening tests, which are tests that are done to look for disorders in people who have no symptoms. If women have symptoms related to the reproductive system (gynecologic... read more Cervix or vagina ). A cervical biopsy is not routinely done in pregnant women because bleeding and preterm labor are risks.

If cervical cancer is in a very early stage, treatment is usually postponed until after delivery.

If more advanced cervical cancer is detected early in pregnancy, it is usually treated immediately as needed.

If it is diagnosed late in pregnancy, doctors explain the risk of postponing treatment so that women can decide whether to postpone treatment until after the fetus is mature enough to be delivered. However, if cancer is advanced, cesarean delivery is done, followed by hysterectomy.

Other gynecologic cancers

Breast cancer

Usually, breast cancer should be treated immediately.

Leukemia and Hodgkin lymphoma

Because leukemias can become fatal rapidly, women are treated as soon as possible, without waiting to allow the fetus to mature.

If Hodgkin lymphoma is present only in areas above the diaphragm (the muscle that separates the chest from the abdomen), radiation therapy may be used, and the abdomen is shielded to protect the fetus from radiation. If lymphoma is present in areas below the diaphragm, doctors may recommend abortion.

NOTE: This is the Consumer Version. DOCTORS: CLICK HERE FOR THE PROFESSONAL VERSION
CLICK HERE FOR THE PROFESSONAL VERSION
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Test your knowledge
Abortion
Abortion is defined as the intentional ending of a pregnancy by surgery or drugs. Which of the following statements about abortion in the United States is most accurate? 
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