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Chemotherapy During Pregnancy Doesn't Harm Baby

Chemotherapy During Pregnancy Doesn't Harm BabyA pregnant woman who needs chemotherapy to treat advanced or aggressive cancer may face a terrible decision: choose between her baby’s life or her own. Many doctors still recommend abortion, advising that chemotherapy may cause birth defects. However, when researchers at M.D. Anderson retrospectively reviewed the records of 652 breast cancer patients age 35 or younger, they found that women who were treated while pregnant had the same rates of recurrence, metastasis and survival as those who were not pregnant. These findings are significant, because they show that pregnant women who have breast cancer can be treated successfully without harming their babies, and abortion is unnecessary.

Pregnancy-associated breast cancer (PABC) develops during pregnancy or within one year after. Although rare, PABC is expected to increase as more women delay pregnancy until they are older (breast cancer risk increases as women age). Pregnancy doesn’t increase breast cancer risk, but it makes detection and diagnosis more difficult, and PABC tumors tend to be more advanced when found. Early-stage PABC can be treated successfully with lumpectomy or mastectomy. If radiation is needed, it can be delayed until the baby is born. Moms-to-be who need chemotherapy to treat advanced breast cancer seem to fare as well as women who aren’t pregnant who receive the same treatment. Chemotherapy can be administered during the second and third trimesters to help Mom without harming the baby. Another option is to induce labor in the final trimester.

If you are pregnant, know that changes to your breasts are often a normal part of the process, but you should always discuss them with your doctor. If cancer is diagnosed, ask your doctor about your treatment options. Understand how they will affect you and your baby before making a decision.

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