• Question: while, pregnant, can cancer affect the baby if the mother has it?

    Asked by suzannahwhitlock to Gioia, Iain, Jo, Leo, Mariam on 23 Jun 2010 in Categories: .
    • Photo: Joanna Watson

      Joanna Watson answered on 22 Jun 2010:

      I don’t know of any cancers that would harm a baby if the mother had it while pregnant. I don’t know about all cancers though, so it might be possible.

      There is a high chance that the baby would be harmed if a woman needed treatment for cancer while pregnant, but I don’t know which treatments would be ok and which would not.

    • Photo: Mariam Orme

      Mariam Orme answered on 22 Jun 2010:

      I don’t think that cancer from the mother can affect the baby.

      But treatments for cancer, like chemotherapy or radiotherapy, could be very dangerous for the baby.

    • Photo: Gioia Cherubini

      Gioia Cherubini answered on 23 Jun 2010:

      Hi suzannahwhitlock,

      I have found that rarely the cancer rarely affects the fetus directly. Although some cancers can spread to the placenta, most cancers cannot spread to the fetus itself.
      I think the main problem with dealing with cancer when you are pregnant (without thinking of the psychological consequences of this sad news), is that the treatment could affect the baby.

    • Photo: Iain Moal

      Iain Moal answered on 23 Jun 2010:

      It can, but usually only as much as it harms the mother. Cancer cannot spread over the placenta to the child and cancers away from the womb don’t usually interfere with the pregnancy. Cancer treatments, however, can be dangerous to the baby, especially if the pregnancy is at an early stage, so the mother will have to consult her oncologist in order to find the best course of action.

    • Photo: Leo Garcia

      Leo Garcia answered on 23 Jun 2010:

      It is very, very rare for cancer to spread from a mother to her unborn baby. However, there are a few ways in which cancer can cause problems during pregnancy.

      Firstly, it is harder to spot. Because the body changes so much during pregnancy it is difficult to identify the symptoms of cancer. For example, frequent headaches or bleeding could be put down to the pregnancy when they could actually be early signs of cancer. Breast cancer is the most common cancer affecting pregnant women but as the breasts swell during pregnancy it is difficult to feel any lumps.

      Secondly doctors have to be more careful about how they diagnose and treat cancer in pregnant women to make sure the treatment doesn’t harm the baby. Methods of diagnosing cancer that use radiation, such as x-rays, could hurt the fetus. Chemotherapy, especially during the early stages of the pregnancy can cause birth defects or cause health problems for the mother that prevent her body from supplying the baby with everything it needs. Radiation therapy could also harm the fetus. Where possible doctors try to treat cancer during pregnancy with surgery to remove cancerous tissue or they will sometimes wait until the baby is born (or deliver it slightly early) in order to treat the mother better.

      The good news is that pregnant women with cancer are just as likely to recover as other patients, as long as the cancer is spotted early.