Topic Overview

On rare occasions, cancer coincides with pregnancy. Because the
medicines and radiation used for treating cancer can be dangerous to a fetus,
a pregnant woman and her doctors must weigh a number of factors when planning
her care, including:

  • The fetus’s
    gestational age.
  • The type and location of
    the cancer.
  • How advanced the cancer is.
  • How rapidly
    the cancer is developing.
  • Whether she has other health

In nonpregnant women, surgery may be used to remove cancer,
depending on the cancer’s type and location. After surgery to remove cancer,
radiation, chemotherapy, or a combination of the two may be used to kill any
remaining cancer cells. When treating a pregnant woman, doctors adjust the
usual treatment regimen with the following in mind.

  • Radiation therapy for cancer treatment is not usually used during pregnancy because it can be harmful to the baby.
  • Diagnostic tests that use radiation may be
    used during pregnancy if necessary. But
    ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) are considered safer and are used whenever
  • Chemotherapy medicines are not usually used during the first trimester
    because of the risks to the fetus, but there are some that may be safely given in the 2nd and 3rd trimesters of pregnancy.

Whenever possible, doctors try to delay chemotherapy during pregnancy
to minimize the effects on the fetus. Such decisions depend on how advanced the
cancer is and how quickly it is developing.

  • If cancer is diagnosed in the third trimester, it may be possible to first deliver the baby, then
    start treatment. After the fetus’s lungs are mature, an early
    cesarean or induced delivery can shorten the wait till
  • If cancer is diagnosed in the first or second trimester, your doctors may try to delay chemotherapy as long
    into the second trimester as possible.
  • If advanced cancer is diagnosed in the first trimester, and immediate radiation and
    chemotherapy are necessary, your doctor may recommend ending the

If you have been diagnosed with cancer during your pregnancy, you
will be working with a number of health professionals. Ask your cancer
specialist (oncologist) for the name of a licensed medical social worker who
can help support you through your treatment. A social worker can also help
coordinate the various professionals involved with your care.

Related Information


ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Sarah Marshall, MD – Family Medicine
E. Gregory Thompson, MD – Internal Medicine
Adam Husney, MD – Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito, MD – Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Rebecca Sue Uranga, MD – Obstetrics and Gynecology

Current as ofApril 24, 2017