Pregnant women with breast cancer can give birth safely even if they are having chemotherapy, according to new research.
It is not necessary to deliver the baby early or delay treatment, said doctors writing in The Lancet medical journal.
Women are instead advised to aim to have a normal length pregnancy, because in most cases the cancer can still be treated with both chemo and surgery, said the report.
Terminating the pregnancy does not appear to improve a woman's chance of surviving the disease, it added.
In the UK, 5,000 women of reproductive age are affected by breast cancer every year.
Of all cases diagnosed in women aged 30 or under, 10 to 20 per cent take place during pregnancy or in the first year after a birth.
Breast cancer in pregnant women is generally diagnosed later than usual, the report said, because symptoms are obscured by expected changes to the body such as an increase in cup-size.
It said chemotherapy could be safely given in the second and third trimesters of pregnancy and, in general, surgery was safe during any of the three trimesters.
In most cases, radiotherapy only became necessary after the birth, and it was not considered a reason to deliver a baby early.
A study in The Lancet Oncology backed up the claims, saying children exposed to chemotherapy in the womb developed just as well as those born to healthy women.
Frederic Amant a doctor from Belgium's Leuven Cancer Institute who worked on The Lancet report, said: 'The new insights we gained during our research facilitate cancer treatment and provide hope for mother and child in most cases.
'Most mothers feel stronger and are even more motivated to undergo the cancer treatment and its side effects, since she is fighting for her child as well.'
Vital action: Chemotherapy can be safely given in the second and third trimesters and, in general, surgery was safe during any of the three trimesters, said the report (file picture)
But Dr Amant admitted that breast cancer in pregnancy 'remains challenging' because in some situations advanced cancer can lead to death of mother and baby.
'Sometimes the woman's partner declares that they feel unable to raise the child in case the mother would not survive her cancer, and termination of pregnancy is opted for.
'In other situations,' he added, 'we were able to save the child though we lost the mother immediately after the delivery - for example by keeping her alive with a terminal brain tumour.'
The report said women and their partners should be informed about the treatment available, and that termination of pregnancy did not seem to improve maternal outcome. But it said 'the decision to continue or end the pregnancy is a personal one'.
Most mothers feel stronger and are even more motivated to undergo the cancer treatment and its side effects, since she is fighting for her child as well.
- DR FREDERIC AMANT
- DR FREDERIC AMANT
The experts said: 'Breast cancer during pregnancy is not an emergency and the time needed to consult an expert team does not worsen the prognosis.'
Current guidelines from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists agree
Kim Hardwick, senior cancer information nurse at Macmillan Cancer Support, said: 'Cancer during pregnancy is thankfully a rare occurrence.that breast cancer does not appear to worsen the prognosis for women diagnosed in pregnancy and that surgery, including mastectomy, can be considered in all trimesters.
While chemotherapy was not recommended in the first trimester because of a higher risk of harm to the baby, it was safe from the second trimester.
'There is no evidence for an increased rate of second-trimester miscarriage or fetal growth restriction, organ dysfunction or long-term adverse outcome with the use of chemotherapy,' the guidelines say.
They add that most women could go to full-term and have a normal or induced delivery.
'But pregnant women with cancer can be successfully treated with chemotherapy.
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