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

Emotionally

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.

Physically

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.

Chemotherapy

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.

Surgery

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.

Radiotherapy

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. 

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