Pregnancy and breast cancer

Breast cancer affects millions of women across the globe every year. While some women may be at greater risk of breast cancer than others, no woman is immune, and that includes expecting mothers.

The National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc. notes that pregnant women can be diagnosed with breast cancer, though such diagnoses are rare. In fact, Breastcancer.org notes that instances of women developing breast cancer during pregnancy are so rare that only small studies have thus far been conducted in regard to treating pregnant women with the disease. However, there are various treatment options for expecting mothers diagnosed with breast cancer.

Each woman is different, and treating breast cancer in pregnant women will depend on a host of factors. The NBCF notes that the size of the tumor, its location and the term the pregnancy is in will help to determine the safest, most effective treatment plan.

According to Breastcancer.org, a mastectomy with axillary lymph node dissection will likely be recommended to women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer during the first trimester of their pregnancies. That recommendation will be based on guidelines established by the National Comprehensive Cancer Network. Surgery will be recommended because radiation therapy is not safe during pregnancy.

Once women have undergone successful surgery, the NCCN guidelines suggest waiting until the second trimester to begin chemotherapy.

Doctors treating women diagnosed with breast cancer during the second trimester of their pregnancies may recommend either mastectomy or lumpectomy, a surgical procedure in which a lump is removed from the breast.

Such recommendations align with NCCN guidelines. In addition, women who receive a lumpectomy would wait until after their children are born to receive any necessary radiation therapy or hormonal therapy. That’s because radiation is not safe during pregnancy and the NBCF notes that the effects of hormone therapy on unborn children are not entirely understood.

The NCCN guidelines advise that women diagnosed with breast cancer during the third trimester of their pregnancies undergo a mastectomy or lumpectomy with axillary lymph node dissection. Chemotherapy is safe during the third trimester, but radiation and hormone therapies will be delayed until after the child is born.

Pregnant women are only rarely diagnosed with breast cancer. But as scary as such a diagnosis can be, women should rest assured that treatment is safe, even if it entails a combination of therapies.

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