- Breast cancer – most common cancer diagnosed during pregnancy.
- Cervical cancer
- Thyroid cancer
- Hodgkin lymphoma
- Non-Hodgkin lymphoma
- Gestational trophoblastic tumour
- Colorectal cancer
- Malignant melanoma
Detecting cancer during pregnancy is tough. That is because many of the symptoms like nausea, vomiting, abdominal bloating, rectal bleeding, fatigue and headaches, which could be preliminary signs of cancer are otherwise natural signs of pregnancy.
However, during pregnancy, sometimes tests can reveal the presence of cancer that was hitherto undetected in the mother’s body. For example, a Pap test done during pregnancy can detect cervical cancer. An ultrasound done during pregnancy may also find ovarian cancer at an early stage.
Cancer rarely has a direct effect on the foetus. Only a few cancers can spread from the mother to the foetus and they include malignant melanoma, small cell lung cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma and leukaemia.
Treatment for cancer during pregnancy, needless to say, is more complicated than during normal times. It would greatly depend on the location of cancer, the type of cancer, the stage of cancer, the age of the foetus.
Treatments during pregnancy would include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. But these are to be used after careful thought and planning to ensure the safety of both the mother and the baby.
Cancer treatments can cause harm to the growing foetus during the initial months as this is the time when the vital body organs of the baby start taking shape.
Hence, many times cancer is diagnosed later in pregnancy. Sometimes it can be possible to wait to start treatment until after the baby is born. The doctor may also consider inducing labour early.
Ways to combat cancer:
Generally, surgery poses the least risk to the foetus and may be considered the safest cancer treatment option for some cancers, especially after the first trimester.
Involves use of anticancer drugs as a systematic therapy to treat cancer.
Chemotherapy and other drugs used to treat cancer are toxic and can harm the foetus (birth defects or low birth weights), especially if they are given during the first trimester of pregnancy when the organs of the foetus are developing.
Chemotherapy and other drug therapies can also cause health problems in the mother such as infection, anaemia or nausea and vomiting. These problems can indirectly harm the foetus.
Also, chemotherapy and other drugs can be transferred to the baby during breastfeeding, causing harm to the baby. So women being treated for cancer are often advised not to breastfeed.
- Radiation therapy:
Involves use of high-energy x-rays or particles to destroy cancer cells and shrink tumours. Radiation can harm a foetus, especially during the first trimester when the baby’s organs and nervous system are developing.
When cancers are far away from the pelvis (such as head and neck cancers), radiation therapy can be used. Lead shields or blocks are used to reduce an amount of radiation on the foetus. Radiation therapy for breast cancer can usually be delayed until after the baby is born.