Breast Cancer: Breast Cancer During Pregnancy

What if I do have cancer? Will I have to lose my baby?

First of all, abortion of the baby does not improve the mother's chances of surviving the cancer.

Second, there is no evidence that breast cancer can harm the baby. What can harm the baby are some of the treatments for breast cancer -- and these depend on how far advanced the cancer is. This is another reason why it is so important to detect these and other cancers early.

If the cancer is still in the early stages (Stage I or II), the doctor will most likely recommend that you have surgery to remove either the suspicious lump (lumpectomy) or the affected breast (mastectomy). During the operation, the surgeon will examine the lymph nodes to see whether any are affected and will (usually) remove the lymph nodes where the cancer is most likely to have spread. If is it necessary to give chemotherapy, your doctor will usually wait until after the first trimester to reduce the chances that it will harm the baby.

If the cancer is more advanced (Stage III or IV), the situation can become very complicated. If radiation is needed to treat the cancer, it can be very hard to protect the baby. Additionally, these cancers usually require both surgery and chemotherapy, so the risk of harming the baby is much higher. There have been instances where the cancer is advanced to the point where any treatment is not likely to add more than a year or two to the woman's life. In these cases, whether or not to undergo the treatment and risk harming the baby can be an agonizing decision for both the woman and her family.

Can I breastfeed my baby if I have breast cancer?

Breastfeeding while you have breast cancer will not harm your baby. Moreover, there is no evidence that stopping your flow of breast milk will improve your cancer.

However, if you are undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer, you should not breastfeed because these powerful chemotherapy drugs can travel through your breast milk to the baby.

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