Breast Cancer Home > Breast Cancer and Pregnancy
Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that uses high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells. There are two types of radiation therapy. External radiation therapy uses a machine outside the body to send radiation toward the cancer. Internal radiation therapy uses a radioactive substance sealed in needles, seeds, wires, or catheters that are placed directly into or near the cancer. The way the radiation therapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.
Radiation therapy should not be given to pregnant women with early-stage (stage I or II) breast cancer because it can harm the fetus. For women with late-stage (stage III or IV) breast cancer, it should not be given during the first three months of pregnancy.
Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping the cells from dividing. When chemotherapy is taken by mouth or injected into a vein or muscle, the drugs enter the bloodstream and can reach cancer cells throughout the body (this is called systemic chemotherapy). When chemotherapy is placed directly into the spinal column, into an organ, or into a body cavity such as the abdomen, the drugs mainly affect cancer cells in those areas (this is called regional or local chemotherapy). The way the chemotherapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.
Chemotherapy should not be given during the first three months of pregnancy. Chemotherapy given after this time does not usually harm the fetus, but may cause early labor and low birth weight.
Breast cancer stages and the process of staging are no different for pregnant women. However, certain staging tests may be adjusted for pregnant women to limit harm to the fetus.