Most women treated for breast cancer during pregnancy or women who become pregnant after treatment for the disease have healthy pregnancies and healthy babies, experts have said.
Breast cancer – the most common cancer in women, affecting around 50,000 women in the UK each year – is rare in younger women, but increasing numbers of women who have been treated for breast cancer are now going on to have babies, according to the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.
Treatment success rates in the UK are good and are continually improving, with five-year survival rates currently around 80% for the under-50s age group, the RCOG said.
“The diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer is improving all the time”
On rare occasions, breast cancer is diagnosed during pregnancy.
New patient information published by the RCOG outlines details for women who are pregnant and have been diagnosed with breast cancer or who have recovered and are planning a family.
For women diagnosed with breast cancer while pregnant, treatment will usually begin straight away and will be offered according to the type and extent of the cancer and a multidisciplinary team will discuss all available treatment options.
These include surgery to remove the lump or the affected breast. Surgery can be carried out at any stage in pregnancy, the RCOG said.
Chemotherapy is not given during the first 13 weeks of pregnancy as it may cause abnormalities in the baby. After that, it is safe and chemotherapy may be offered.
The anti-sickness and steroid treatments that control chemotherapy side effects are also safe and will not cause harm to the baby.
Radiotherapy is not usually offered as a treatment option until after the birth.
Two commonly used drugs – tamoxifen and herceptin – are often given after the initial treatment to reduce the chance of the cancer recurring.
These drugs are not recommended during pregnancy and will be delayed until after the birth.
“It is important to emphasise that breast cancer during pregnancy is rare”
Philippa Marsden, chair of the RCOG Patient Information Committee, said: “It is important to emphasise that breast cancer during pregnancy is rare, with 1.3 to 2.4 cases per 10,000 live births.
“Being diagnosed with breast cancer whilst pregnant can be extremely frightening. However, a specialist team including a consultant obstetrician, midwife and breast team will look after a woman throughout her pregnancy and ensure the best possible outcome for both mother and baby.”
Cath Broderick, chair of the RCOG Women’s Network, said: “The diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer is improving all the time and we are now seeing more women than ever surviving the disease.
“Being pregnant does not seem to affect how successful treatment is. This patient information gives a lot of reassurance and advice for women in this situation.”