Types of surgery to remove the cancer include:
Even if the doctor removes all of the cancer that can be seen at the time of surgery, the patient may be given radiation therapy or chemotherapy after surgery to try to kill any cancer cells that may be left. For pregnant women with early-stage breast cancer, radiation therapy and hormone therapy are given after the baby is born. Treatment given after surgery, to lower the risk that the cancer will come back, is called adjuvant therapy.
The way the radiation therapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.
External radiation therapy is not given to pregnant women with early stage (stage I or II) breast cancer because it can harm the unborn baby. For women with late stage (stage III or IV) breast cancer, radiation therapy is not given during the first 3 months of pregnancy and is delayed until after the baby is born, if possible.
Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping the cells from dividing. When chemotherapy is taken by mouth or injected into a vein or muscle, the drugs enter the bloodstream and can reach cancer cells throughout the body (systemic chemotherapy). When chemotherapy is placed directly into the cerebrospinal fluid, an organ, or a body cavity such as the abdomen, the drugs mainly affect cancer cells in those areas (regional chemotherapy). The way the chemotherapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.
Chemotherapy is usually not given during the first 3 months of pregnancy. Chemotherapy given after this time does not usually harm the unborn baby but may cause early labor and low birth weight.
See Drugs Approved for Breast Cancer for more information.
Because ending the pregnancy is not likely to improve the mother’s chance of survival, it is not usually a treatment option.
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