World Cancer Day 2023: Things to know about cancer during pregnancy
World Cancer Day, marked on February 4 every year, is about creating awareness around cancer. This disease, according to the World Health Organization is a leading cause of death worldwide. Statistics indicate that almost 10 million people died due to cancer in 2020. Many questions revolve around it, and women with cancer often fear if having a baby is possible with this disease. They generally wonder if cancer can pass on from a mother to the fetus. An expert says that cancer is rarely transmitted in the womb. Read on to know if it is safe for women with cancer to have babies.
HealthShots connected with Dr Vishal Rao, group director for surgical oncology and robotic surgery, HCG Cancer Centre, Bengaluru, to know if cancer can pass on from a mother to her child.
Rare case of cancer passing on from mother to child
It’s not entirely impossible for your baby to be born with cancer. Dr Rao says that cancer can rarely be passed on from a mother to her child through genetic mutations in egg or sperm cells before conception. Sometimes, it can happen through genetic changes that take place during development of the fetus.
Is there any type of cancer that is hereditary?
We know that cancer is a genetic disease, but not all of them are hereditary. Some types of cancer, such as breast and ovarian cancer, can be hereditary and caused by inherited genetic mutations (healthy lifestyle and diet can reduce risk of breast cancer). So, if you have a family history of these cancers, it’s better to get checked. You may have an increased risk of developing them yourself.
Effects of cancer on fetus
The fear of effects of cancer on fetus is real for women battling the disease.
The effects can depend on the type of cancer and the stage of pregnancy. But in general, cancer treatment during pregnancy can have risks for the fetus such as premature birth or low birth weight (tips to help in growth of premature babies). Radiation therapy and certain types of chemotherapy can also harm the developing fetus and should be avoided if possible during pregnancy.
Tips to keep in mind while managing cancer and pregnancy
There are no guaranteed ways to prevent your unborn child from getting cancer, but there are certain ways to have a smooth pregnancy.
1. Take help from healthcare professionals
It is important for pregnant women with cancer to have a team of healthcare professionals who are experienced in managing cancer during pregnancy. So, be it obstetricians, oncologists or fertility experts, you should get them on board.
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2. Additional monitoring and testing during pregnancy
Pregnant women with cancer may need to have additional monitoring and testing during their pregnancy to ensure that the mother and the baby are healthy. For example, they may need to have more frequent prenatal visits, ultrasounds, and other tests to monitor the baby’s growth and development, says the expert.
3. Work on the timing of cancer treatment
The timing of cancer treatment during pregnancy is also important (how to prevent side effects of chemotherapy). In some cases, it may be best to delay treatment until after the baby is born. While in other cases, it may be best to begin treatment as soon as possible. All this will depend on the type of cancer, the stage of the disease, and the overall health of the mother.
4. Have access to counseling and support services
Pregnant women with cancer may also have additional emotional and psychological needs, and it is important for them to be in touch with counseling and support services. This will help them cope with the added stress and uncertainty of having cancer during pregnancy.
5. Check out support groups and online communities
In today’s day and age, pregnant women with cancer can get help from support groups, online communities, and organisations that can provide information and assistance.
6. Genetic testing
It is important for would-be moms to discuss with paediatrician about genetic testing if there is a family history of cancer. It turns out, certain genetic predispositions can make a child more susceptible to certain types of cancer. So, early detection can be vital in such cases.
Once your child is born, make sure the little one leads a healthy lifestyle and goes for regular cancer screenings. These can help detect and treat cancer at an early stage when it is most treatable.