Cancer during pregnancy is rare but it has been known to happen. There have been many reported cases of pregnant women with cancer, about 1 out of every 1,000 pregnancies. It is not always clear which one came first, the pregnancy or the cancer. However, it is possible for a woman with cancer to deliver a perfectly healthy baby.
The most common forms of cancer that pregnant women can have are breast cancer, gynecological (cervical and ovarian cancer) cancers, Hodgkin lymphoma, malignant melanoma, and thyroid cancer. It is not pregnancy as such that causes these cancers. These are simply the cancers commonly occurring in young people, in adults of child-bearing age.
Pregnancy can mask cancer symptoms.
Breast cancer during pregnancy may not be easily detected as the symptoms may be masked by pregnancy-induced breast enlargement. Mammography, the most common method of breast cancer screening, is not usually performed on pregnant women. Other cancer symptoms may simply be attributed to cancer symptoms. It is therefore possible that pregnancy can delay diagnosis.
Pregnancy can uncover cancer.
Some cancers are discovered during pregnancy check ups. Pap smears and ultrasonography are standard prenatal tests that can detect gynecological cancer.
Pregnancy can delay cancer treatment.
Under such circumstances, the woman has to consider how the cancer treatments would affect the unborn child. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy can harm the fetus. Some surgical procedures may be possible during pregnancy. Some women however, delay treatment until the baby is born. For some aggressive forms of cancer, however, delay may be fatal.
Can cancer pass on from mother to child?
Infections can be passed on from mother to child. Cancer, however, is not an infection and it is not contagious.
There has been very little concern, though, that the fetus too will get cancer. This is because cancer cells from the mother normally cannot cross the placental barrier into the child.
However, one case report documents genetically for the first time how it is possible for a mother to pass on cancer to the baby in her womb.
A 28-year woman was diagnosed with leukemia a few months after delivery. Her 11-month old daughter was also diagnosed with the same type of blood cancer. Furthermore, using a genetic tracking technique, the researchers were able to confirm that the disease was transmitted from mother to child during pregnancy.
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