Cancer and pregnancy

Find out more about cancer and pregnancy, including how it might affect your mind and body, and where to go for help if you’ve been affected.

A photo of Coronation street characters Sinead, Daniel and Ken standing on a hospital ward looking worried

Pregnancy blog, published 14/06/2017 [updated 22/10/2018]
Image credit: @itvcorrie via Twitter

Unfortunately, cancer can affect anyone and although pregnancy itself doesn’t increase the risk, a diagnosis can still be made during pregnancy. This can be extremely frightening, and decision-making can be tough.

Do not be put-off or scared about getting symptoms checked out by your doctor. The earlier cancer is found, the more treatable it is likely to be. And if your symptom is not serious your GP can tell you not to worry.

Cancer diagnosis during pregnancy

It can be difficult to diagnose cancer during pregnancy because some symptoms are similar to common pregnancy complaints, including:

  • bowel changes, like constipation and haemorrhoids (piles)
  • bleeding from the vagina
  • tiredness
  • breathlessness
  • changes to your breasts.

You know your body better than anyone else so if you think something isn’t right, check with your midwife or doctor.

How you might feel


Pregnancy is an emotional time, but being diagnosed with cancer on top can cause huge amounts of stress, worry and anxiety. Your mind will be full of concerns for the safety of you and your baby, and how you, your friends and your family might cope.

When your dreams of a normal pregnancy are taken away from you, it is natural to be angry.

The best thing to do is to talk, to your midwife, doctor, partner and friends. They will want to help you in any way they can. There are also organisations that can support you with cancer during pregnancy.


As with any pregnancy, taking care of your physical health is also really important, but especially if you have cancer too. Make sure you:

  • Eat healthily
  • Exercise when you feel able to, even if it’s a short walk
  • Rest up
  • Take time for yourself and do things you enjoy.

Pregnancy is tiring enough, but if you are having cancer treatment you might really struggle with fatigue. Accept help when it’s offered and go easy on yourself.

Treatment for cancer if you're pregnant

The most common cancer treatments are chemotherapy, surgery and radiotherapy. Some treatments are avoided during pregnancy.


The most common treatment for cancer when you’re pregnant is chemotherapy. If you need chemo this will likely start after 14 weeks. Doctors will avoid giving you drugs that could harm your baby.


Depending on the type of cancer, you may need surgery. Your healthcare team will discuss all of the risks with you and the best timing for the operation.


It’s uncommon to be given radiotherapy during pregnancy due to the risk that it might harm the baby. If you need radiotherapy, it will usually be given after baby is born.

More information and support

Macmillan Cancer Support

Macmillan have lots of detailed information about cancer and pregnancy, including all of the topics mentioned here:

You can also read Polly’s story about pregnancy and breast cancer.

‘When I finally got to hold him, it was incredible. Throughout the pregnancy, I hadn’t let myself imagine what it could be like. Now, there he was, fully formed and perfect. He’d survived it all. My little miracle.’

Mummy’s Star

Mummy’s Star is a charity devoted to supporting women affected by cancer during or shortly after pregnancy, and their families. 

More pregnancy news and blogs

  • Family featured in Channel 4's documentary sitting on sofa smiling at the camera


    Postpartum psychosis documentary on Channel 4

    Some of you may have watched the new documentary from Channel 4 air on Tuesday night as part of it’s ‘Losing it: Our Mental Health Emergency’ series. The documentary followed a family in Nottingham who experienced postpartum psychosis, a rare but a very serious illness that is often unpredictable.

  • Bushfire smoke in Australia with women holding a mask over her face.


    How are the Australian bushfires affecting pregnant women?

    The recent fires in Australia are known to have had a huge effect on animal and human inhabitants. We’ve looked at the health risks they pose during pregnancy, and how to minimise them.

  • Due - anuary, Just found out you're pregnant?


    Just found out you’re pregnant?…apparently lots of people do in 'Due-anuary'

    ‘Due’anuary is a month when lots of people seem to find out they are pregnant, so much so that 17th January has been labelled ‘Discovery Day’! Read more about why this is, and what the most common months are for giving birth.

  • Illustration of woman suffering from PTSD


    Pregnancy after loss and coping with PTSD

    PTSD is being talked about a lot in the media today. It’s important to recognise that PTSD can affect anyone. If you’ve been through a traumatic birth or if you have experienced baby loss in a previous pregnancy through miscarriage, stillbirth or neonatal death, you may be more likely to experience PTSD.

    Was this information useful?

    Yes No


    Please note that these comments are monitored but not answered by Tommy’s. Please call your GP or maternity unit if you have concerns about your health or your baby’s health.

    Your comment

    Add new comment