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Breast Cancer and Pregnancy

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What Happens to my Baby if I Have Breast Cancer?

Pregnancy termination will not improve the mother's chances of surviving breast cancer. In addition, there is no evidence that breast cancer can harm the baby. What may harm the baby are some of the treatments for breast cancer.

If the cancer is still in the early stages (Stage I or II), your doctor will most likely recommend that you have surgery to remove either the suspicious lump (lumpectomy) or the entire breast (mastectomy). Mastectomy is the preferred surgery in the first and second trimester; radiation therapy can't be started until after pregnancy because it can harm the baby. Lumpectomy is usually an option for women diagnosed with breast cancer in the third trimester. Surgery, in general, is safe during any trimester of pregnancy.

During breast cancer surgery, the surgeon will examine the lymph nodes to see whether any are affected and will (usually) remove the lymph nodes where the cancer is most likely to have spread. If it is necessary to give chemotherapy, your doctor will usually wait until after the first trimester to reduce the chances that it will harm the baby.

If breast cancer is more advanced (Stage III or IV), the situation can become very complicated. If radiation is needed to treat the cancer, it can be very hard to protect the baby. Additionally, these cancers usually require both surgery and chemotherapy, so the risk of harming the baby is much higher. There have been instances where the cancer is advanced to the point where any treatment is not likely to add more than a year or two to the woman's life. In these cases, whether or not to undergo the treatment and risk harming the baby can be an agonizing decision for both the woman and her family.

Can I Breastfeed my Baby if I Have Breast Cancer?

Breastfeeding while you have breast cancer will not harm your baby. Moreover, there is no evidence that stopping your flow of breast milk will improve your cancer.

However, if you are undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer, you should not breastfeed, because these powerful chemotherapy drugs can travel through your breast milk to the baby.

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