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Breast Cancer & Pregnancy: What Can I Expect?

What if I get breast cancer while pregnant?


Being diagnosed with breast cancer during pregnancy is especially world-rocking. You are going through two major life events at once, and likely thinking about your own health in terms of your ability to be there for your baby. Fortunately, there are many safe and effective treatments for breast cancer during pregnancy.


When can I begin treatment? Are any treatments off the table?

The treatment of breast cancer during pregnancy takes into account not only the health of the mother but also the health of the developing fetus. Your cancer care team and your obstetric team will work together closely to plan your treatment.

Certain treatments, including radiation therapy, targeted therapy, and hormone therapy aren’t considered safe during pregnancy. The approach to treatment depends on the trimester in which you are diagnosed.

  • First trimester: lumpectomy (removal of the tumor and some surrounding tissue) or mastectomy, along with lymph node removal, followed by chemotherapy. Mastectomies are more common in the first trimester because chemotherapy cannot be given until the second trimester.
  • Second and third trimesters: lumpectomy or mastectomy and lymph node removal, followed by chemotherapy


Will my baby be safe?

Your cancer care team and obstetric team will work together closely to ensure your baby remains as safe as possible during your treatment. Some treatments may be slightly delayed in order to ensure your and your baby’s safety.


What are my chances of survival?

Breast cancer during pregnancy is relatively rare and difficult to study. Most studies have found that outcomes for pregnant and non-pregnant women are similar based on cancer stage, type, and their age. 


Will I be able to breastfeed?

Many doctors recommend that women who have recently given birth and are about to be treated for breast cancer do not breastfeed. This is because many cancer treatments, including chemotherapy, hormone therapy, and targeted therapy, are not safe during breastfeeding. Additionally, it is easier to perform surgery and you will be at a lower risk for complications if you are not lactating.

Each case is different. If you would like to breastfeed, discuss this with your doctors to see if it will be possible with your treatment plan.