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While it is relatively uncommon for a woman to be diagnosed with cancer while pregnant, it is possible. For instance, studies suggest that one breast cancer diagnosis occurs in approximately every 3,000 pregnancies. Because cancerous cells cannot pass through the placental barrier, which separates a pregnant woman’s body from her baby’s body, cancer cannot spread from the mother to the baby. However, many people wonder about the safety of cancer treatment – especially chemotherapy – during pregnancy.

Chemo can be safely administered after the first trimester

In general, most experts agree that the best cancer treatment option for a pregnant woman is to have surgery right away, if possible, to remove all or part of the tumor, then wait until the second trimester to begin chemotherapy, if necessary. That’s because the baby’s organs develop during the first 12-14 weeks of pregnancy.

Research shows that chemotherapy is generally safe for both the mother and the baby during the second and third trimesters, after the baby’s organs have fully developed. However, radiation therapy and hormone therapy should be delayed until after a pregnant woman has given birth.

Chemo should be suspended near the delivery date

In most cases, a pregnant woman’s final chemotherapy dose should be administered approximately eight weeks prior to her delivery date, which is about 32-33 weeks into the pregnancy. The reason is that chemotherapy can lower a patient’s white blood cell counts, which can increase the risk of infection in both the mother and the baby around the time of delivery.

Receive cancer treatment at Moffitt

If you are pregnant and have been diagnosed with cancer, you can discuss your treatment options with an expert at Moffitt Cancer Center with or without a referral. Our multispecialty team will work closely with you to develop an individualized treatment plan based on your unique circumstances. Request an appointment by calling 1-888-663-3488 or completing a new patient registration form online.