Pregnancy should be a joyful experience. Thus, the discovery of a breast lump while pregnant comes as an especially fearful development, and if the subsequent biopsy report confirms a malignant growth, depression even panic may occur. The natural fear for one s own health is multiplied by concern for how treatment might harm or even end the new life in the womb.
A new report from a European group of researchers, however, has demonstrated that chemotherapy for breast cancer can be administered to pregnant women with satisfactory outcomes for both baby and mother. In other words, there is no need to compromise the mother s treatment, nor interfere with the pregnancy: the cancer can still be fought effectively.
The incidence of breast cancer among pregnant women has risen over the past decade or so, as more women postpone childbearing and mammography screening has become more prevalent. Yet, there is no reason for most women to be alarmed: Breast cancer at age 40 and under is still rare. But for those unfortunate few, the new study provides some comforting news.
The scientists evaluated over 400 women with early breast cancer, half of whom received typical combination chemotherapy; they were then compared to the group that delayed chemo treatment until after delivery. While those who got treatment while pregnant delivered prematurely somewhat more often, there were no other significant differences between the two groups. (In both treated and untreated mothers, complications occurred more often with earlier deliveries, but the chemotherapy itself was not the determining factor.)
Further, disease-free survival after treatment was the same in both groups, regardless whether treatment was administered during pregnancy or delayed until after delivery.
These findings surprised me and the other experts at my organization, the American Council on Science and Health. We have become inured to the seemingly-continual alarms over tiny levels of this or that common chemical supposedly causing all sorts of health effects. Yet here s a study showing that the most vulnerable targets fetuses are relatively immune to big-time doses of really toxic chemicals. The simple message is this: Women with breast cancer while also preparing for new motherhood, take heart in all likelihood, your baby will be fine, and so will you!