Cancer during Pregnancy
- Ed Sheeran revealed that his wife, 30-year-old Cherry Seaborn, got a scary tumor diagnosis while she was pregnant last year.
- He didn’t share more details, but it highlighted an important question: What happens if you’re diagnosed with cancer during pregnancy?
- The American Cancer Society says cancers can be harder to find when you’re pregnant. It can sometimes be difficult to know if bodily changes are from pregnancy or cancer. It’s important to quickly address any lumps, new pains or other changes that concern you during pregnancy.
- Imaging tests, like mammograms or X-rays, may need to be done to help diagnosis potential cancer, but they have the potential to expose the fetus to harmful radiation, especially during the first trimester.
- There are ways to treat cancer during certain times of pregnancy with little risk to the fetus, such as surgery, but other treatments can’t be performed safely during pregnancy, such as hormone therapy or radiation. Your doctor can help guide you in what options are available for you.
Sheeran, whose new album “Subtract” comes out May 5, said this period of time was life-changing for him. His wife, 30-year-old Cherry Seaborn,” was pregnant with the couple’s second child when they got the scary news.Read More
“I felt like I was drowning, head below the surface, looking up but not being able to break through for air.”View this post on Instagram
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Sheeran did not share any other details about Seaborn’s tumor, so it’s important to note that the tumor could have been malignant (cancerous) or benign (non-cancerous). Though even benign tumors can cause serious issues. Either way, we’d like to take this opportunity to educate our readers about what cancer during a pregnancy looks like, and how treatments may affect fertility.
Cancer During Pregnancy
The American Cancer Society reports that thousands of cancers occur during pregnancies each year in the United States, with the most common types being similar to those in younger women:
- breast cancer
- cervical cancer
- thyroid cancer
- colon cancer
- ovarian cancer
Unfortunately, cancers can be harder to find when you’re pregnant because it can sometimes be be hard to know if changes in your body are from the pregnancy or from cancer. The American Cancer Society notes the following scenarios as examples:
- Changes in hormone levels during pregnancy can cause the breasts to become larger, lumpy and/or tender. This can make it harder for you or your doctor to notice a lump caused by cancer until it gets quite large.
- Bleeding from the rectum could be from benign hemorrhoids, which are common during pregnancy, or from colon or rectal cancer.
- Feeling tired could be from weight gain from the pregnancy or from low red blood cell counts (anemia), which can be seen during pregnancy or with cancers such as leukemias and lymphomas.
- The growth of the fetus and uterus can make it hard to detect ovarian tumors.
Given these challenges, cancers that develop during a pregnancy are often diagnosed at a more advanced stage than they otherwise would’ve been. It’s important to address any lumps, new pains, or other bodily changes that concern you. Anything suspicious should be promptly checked out by a medical professional.
Screening For Cancer During Pregnancy
Imaging tests, such as mammograms or X-rays, may need to be done if there is concern that a pregnant person may have cancer. However, imaging tests have the potential to expose a developing fetus to radiation, especially during the first trimester. Plus, a chemical is typically injected into the body before the test. Different tests come with different risk levels for the fetus, so talk to your doctor beforehand about the specific test that may needed.
Biopsies may also be needed. In this case, a needle biopsy is the most common type, according to the American Cancer Society. It’s done under local anesthesia (numbing medicine) and is an out-patient procedure that typically has little risk for the fetus. Surgical biopsies, on the other hand, are done when a needle can’t be used. It takes a larger piece of tissue through a cut (incision), and is done under general anesthesia (medicine that puts you to sleep). For this reason, this procedure may be held until the second or third trimester when it is safer for the fetus.
Cancer Treatment During Pregnancy
Every pregnancy and cancer journey are unique, so it’s important to discuss your specific situation with your doctor. There are ways to treat cancer during certain times of pregnancy with little risk to the fetus, such as surgery. A treatment like chemotherapy may be more risky in the first trimester but has limited side effects for the fetus in the second or third trimester, according to the American Cancer Society. Other treatments may not be safe for the fetus at any time, such as hormone therapy or radiation. Your doctor can help guide you in what options are available for you.
Fertility and Cancer Treatment for Women
Infertility can be a side effect of some cancer treatments, but there are options to consider. Fertility preservation, for example, is available to women of childbearing age. Options for women include:
- Egg and embryo freezing (the most common practice)
- Ovarian tissue freezing
- Ovarian suppression to prevent the eggs from maturing so that they cannot be damaged during treatment.
- Ovarian transposition, for women getting radiation to the pelvis, to move the ovaries out of the line of treatment.
How Does Chemotherapy Affect Fertility?
No matter what course of action you choose to take, it is important that all women feel comfortable discussing their options prior to cancer treatment.
In a previous conversation with SurvivorNet, Dr. Jaime Knopman said time was precious when dealing with fertility preservation for women with cancer. In other words, the sooner the better when it comes to having these important fertility conversations with your doctor.
Freezing Eggs Or Embryos: What Should I Do?
“The sooner we start, the sooner that patient can then go on and do their treatment,” Dr. Knopman said. “A lot of the success comes down to how old you are at the time you froze and the quality of the lab in which your eggs or embryos are frozen in.”
In addition, Dr. Knopman says even patients who don’t freeze their eggs or embryos before treatment still have the option of using an egg donor.
When Chemotherapy Damages the Ovaries: What are the Options?
“We would help you select someone who you feel (has the) characteristics you would want to represent in your child,” Dr. Knopman said. “We would use eggs, combine it with your partner’s sperm, if there was a partner. And then you could carry the pregnancy.”
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