Ochsner Cancer Institute Advises on Pregnant Women with Cancer
NEW ORLEANS – Although cancer in pregnant women is not common, about 1 in every 1,000 pregnancies, it is not extraordinarily rare either, especially for women who have children later in life. As women are diagnosed, treatment decisions become complicated as balancing the mother’s health with the baby’s becomes extremely important. The good news is that treatments are possible and have seen good results.
Dr. Jacob Estes, Section Head of Gynecology Oncology, Ochsner Cancer Institute, provides insight on the many factors that influence the treatment plan, including type and severity of cancer and stage of pregnancy.
Types of Cancer
While breast is the most common form of cancer women experience during pregnancy, they also suffer from cervical, thyroid, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, melanoma, ovarian and gestational trophoblastic tumors.
Being diagnosed during pregnancy is difficult, as many cancer symptoms, such as bloating, headaches, breast changes or rectal bleeding, are also common during pregnancy. Once cancer is suspected, it is important to be careful with diagnostic testing. X-rays and computed tomography (CT) scans use an ionizing radiation which can be harmful to the fetus. However, doctors use lead vests during these procedures, and research has shown that, with care, the testing shows no risk.
Strong communication with the mother’s team of physicians is vital for successful results. Treatment must be individualized for the mother based on type, stage and severity of cancer while being balanced with the stage of pregnancy. Physicians try to avoid chemotherapy and radiation until after the first trimester as this is when the fetus’ organs are still growing and treatment at this time can lead to birth defects or loss of pregnancy. Ideally, chemotherapy would begin well into the second or third trimester with much fewer risks to the fetus. Often, a safer form of treatment for a pregnant mother is surgery, as this allows for the removal of the cancer while avoiding chemotherapy and radiation.
Different treatments affect breastfeeding in different ways. It is not recommended to breastfeed while undergoing chemotherapy. However, if undergoing radiation therapy breastfeeding is permitted even though it will limit the amount of milk the breast can produce. Always discuss with your physician before breastfeeding while undergoing treatment.
The Ochsner Cancer Institute provides multidisciplinary care for adult and pediatric cancer patients. These patients benefit from a collaborative approach to cancer care by a highly skilled team of physicians, oncology nurses, social workers, researchers, and other healthcare professionals. Ochsner has been recognized as a High Performing hospital by U.S. News & World Report. Ground-breaking research is made possible by the generosity of our donors. If you’d like to learn more about our cancer services or to donate visit ochsner.org/cancer.
Ochsner Health is Louisiana’s largest non-profit, academic, healthcare system. Driven by a mission to Serve, Heal, Lead, Educate and Innovate, coordinated clinical and hospital patient care is provided across the region by Ochsner's 30 owned, managed and affiliated hospitals and more than 60 health centers. Ochsner is the only Louisiana hospital recognized by U.S. News & World Report as a “Best Hospital” across three specialty categories caring for patients from all 50 states and more than 80 countries worldwide each year. Ochsner employs more than 17,000 employees and over 1,000 physicians in over 90 medical specialties and subspecialties, and conducts more than 1,000 clinical research studies. Ochsner Health is proud to be a tobacco-free environment. For more information, please visit ochsner.org and follow us on Twitter and Facebook.