Most women treated for breast cancer during pregnancy or who become pregnant after treatment for the disease have healthy babies, experts have said.
Breast cancer – the most common cancer in women, affecting around 50,000 in the UK each year – is rare in younger women, but increasing numbers of sufferers who have been treated for the disease are now going on to have babies, according to the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG).
Success rates for treatment in the UK are continually improving, with five-year survival rates at around 80 per cent for the under-50s, the RCOG said.
New patient information published by the RCOG yesterday showed that for women diagnosed with breast cancer while pregnant, treatment will usually begin straightaway, according to the type and extent of the cancer.
This may include surgery to remove the lump or the affected breast. Surgery can be carried out at any stage in pregnancy.
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.
Radiotherapy is not usually offered until after the birth.
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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.”
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.
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 for women in this situation.”
Carolyn Rogers, clinical nurse specialist at Breast Cancer Care, said: “It will be hugely reassuring for these women that the information confirms it is possible to have healthy pregnancies and healthy babies during and after treatment.
“Though breast cancer during pregnancy is rare, it can happen. We speak to women who tell us it can be an emotional struggle dealing with a diagnosis at what should be an exciting time.
“So we hope this new information about what to expect and the treatments that can be given safely during pregnancy may help lessen some of this anxiety.”
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