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A Breast cancer diagnosis is a tough life-changing experience that turns a woman’s life upside down. You go through a shock, mixed feelings, and endless questions and concerns. one of the womens’ biggest concerns, especially at a young age, is the possibility of getting pregnant after breast cancer treatment.
In this article, we will try to answer every question a breast cancer warrior might have regarding pregnancy.
Pregnancy after breast cancer treatment .. Is it possible?
The first question a breast cancer survivor asks when it comes to planning pregnancy is her fertility. She always has doubts that breast cancer treatment might have a negative effect. Actually, the most common treatment of breast cancer – chemotherapy – has an effect on a woman’s fertility. Chemotherapy might cause damage to the ovaries which might lead to immediate or delayed infertility.
However, this doesn’t mean it’s impossible in all cases for a cancer survivor to get pregnant. It’s always better to talk to your doctor before starting your treatment and you can also consult a gynecologist.
A study was conducted in the University of Genoa and Policlinico San Martino Hospital in Italy where 39 breast cancer survivors were trying to get pregnant. The study showed the following results:
- 60% of the women were less likely to get pregnant.
- The women were more likely to give birth early and have cesarean labor.
- The women were more likely to have low birth-weight babies.
However, the study proved that women don’t have a higher risk of miscarriage, bleeding before or after labor, or congenital deformities. Treatment with chemotherapy did not increase the risk of pregnancy complications.
When to start planning pregnancy after breast cancer treatment?
Most medical opinions advise waiting for a minimum of two years after treatment. This is enough time to ensure that there will be no early recurrence of cancer. Definitely, there is no single rule that fits all cancer cases who want to conceive, you have to check with your doctor. It depends on multiple factors like the patient’s cancer stage and the woman’s age.
Would this put the baby at risk?
There is no scientific proof that a woman’s previous breast cancer would affect her baby or cause any birth defects. However, it’s different when you get pregnant in the middle of the treatment whether chemotherapy or hormonal. The treatments might affect the fetus.
How to handle treatment if you mistakenly got pregnant?
This depends on the type of procedures and treatments you’re going through.
- Breast cancer surgery: The surgery is safe during pregnancy. However, it depends on whether it’s a mastectomy (removing the entire breast) or lumpectomy (removing the infected part). Unfortunately, mastectomy is always chosen for pregnant women because lumpectomy requires radiation therapy which is not permitted during pregnancy. However, lumpectomy is considered an option if the cancer was discovered in the third trimester. Radiation therapy can be postponed after the delivery of the baby.
- Chemotherapy: It’s not safe during the first trimester, in contrast to the other two trimesters. The development of the baby takes place in the first trimester so the safety of the treatment is a major concern. For the second and third trimesters, some types of chemotherapy are safe and have no proven effects on pregnancy or the health and development of the baby. However, no results yet have shown the safety of long-term effects. Starting week 35 of pregnancy and within three weeks of delivery, chemotherapy is not an option. At this period, it might lower the mother’s blood cells count which can lead to bleeding and infections.
- Hormonal and radiation therapy: Both are harmful to the baby and not recommended to be given during pregnancy. Radiation may cause miscarriage, birth defects, slow fetal growth, or a higher risk of childhood cancer. The same goes for hormonal therapy.
Breastfeeding during treatment
Breastfeeding your baby during cancer treatment is not recommended. If the mother will go through surgery, breastfeeding her baby will negatively affect the result. Stopping breastfeeding will reduce blood flow to the breasts and make them smaller. This helps during the operation. After a mastectomy, you won’t be able to breastfeed from the treated breast because the tissues in the breast that make milk will be removed.
If you had a lumpectomy with radiation, you won’t be able to produce enough milk from that breast to breastfeed. You will be able to breastfeed from your other breast. If you had a lumpectomy only, you will be able to breastfeed from both breasts. You won’t pass on cancer cells to the baby through your milk. For chemotherapy, some drugs can be found in breast milk.
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Sources used in this article:
- Treating Breast Cancer During Pregnancy – American Cancer Society
- Pregnancy After Breast Cancer – American Cancer Society
- Pregnancy Is Safe After a Breast Cancer Diagnosis – BreastCancer.Org
- Pregnancy After Treatment for Early Stage Breast Cancer – Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
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