While it’s rare to have cervical cancer when you’re pregnant, it can happen in some people. Research shows that cervical cancer is the most commonly diagnosed gynecological cancer during pregnancy. Between 1% and 3% of patients with cervical cancer are pregnant or postpartum at the time of diagnosis.
Cervical cancer can impact a person’s pregnancy, future fertility, and postpartum care. Your treatment options and outlook will depend on the type of cervical cancer you have, the size of your tumor, and how far along you are in your pregnancy. Fortunately, when this type of cancer is diagnosed during pregnancy, it’s usually found early and is treatable.
Cervical Cancer and Fertility
The treatments you receive for cervical cancer may impact your ability to have another child.
If the cancer is found very early and confined to your cervix, your healthcare provider might recommend an approach that could preserve your fertility, such as:
- Cold knife cone biopsy: With this procedure, only the part of the cervix with cancer is removed.
- Radical trachelectomy: This procedure involves removing most of the cervix but leaving the rest of the uterus as is.
When cervical cancer is found at a later stage, patients usually need a hysterectomy to remove the uterus and cervix, along with chemotherapy and radiation therapy. While these options typically rule out the possibility of carrying a baby, certain methods, such as egg freezing or in vitro fertilization via a surrogate, may be options for having a biological child.
Is Cervical Cancer Hereditary?
Having a relative with cervical cancer usually doesn’t increase your risk for the disease. The two most common types of cervical cancer—squamous cell and adenocarcinoma—are not hereditary. However, genetic factors may be a cause for rare types.
Cervical Cancer and Gestation
If you have cancer during pregnancy, the cancer itself rarely affects the unborn baby. However, the treatments you receive could impact you and your baby.
At this point, research also suggests that cervical cancers found during pregnancy don’t grow more quickly and are no more likely to spread than those diagnosed in people who aren’t pregnant.
Different procedures and therapies can pose risks, such as:
- Preterm delivery
- Birth defects
If your cancer is advanced and you choose not to have treatment, you may be at an increased risk for metastasis (spreading).
A pregnant person with cervical cancer often has the same prognosis as someone who isn’t pregnant.
Your treatment options for cervical cancer during pregnancy will depend on your personal wishes, how advanced your cancer is, and when you are diagnosed.
Some treatments for cervical cancer include:
- Surgery: Surgical methods include a cold knife cone biopsy, a radical trachelectomy, or a hysterectomy.
- Chemotherapy: With chemotherapy, drugs kill cancer cells in the body.
- Radiation therapy: This therapy involves using high-power energy beams to kill cancer.
- Targeted therapy: Targeted treatments focus on certain characteristics of cancer cells.
- Immunotherapy: This type of therapy uses your body’s own immune system to fight cancer.
Typically, healthcare providers will suggest different options depending on your trimester of pregnancy:
- First trimester: If you’re less than three months pregnant and want to continue with your pregnancy, your healthcare provider might recommend that you delay treatment until you are further along. Certain cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy, are more likely to harm the baby during the early months of pregnancy. Some patients choose to end their pregnancy if the cancer is caught at this time in order to undergo treatment without having to be concerned about the effects it may have on the unborn baby.
- Second or third trimester: Your healthcare provider might consider certain treatments, such as chemotherapy or surgery, during the second trimester of pregnancy. Studies have shown children who are exposed to chemo during pregnancy do not have more health issues than those who are not, but researchers are still trying to understand the long-term effects of cancer treatments given during pregnancy. In certain cases, healthcare professionals may suggest that you wait until the baby is born before you have any treatments.
Pregnant people with cervical cancer typically deliver their babies early via a cesarean delivery (C-section), and some need a hysterectomy at the same time. You might also require chemotherapy and radiation after giving birth.
Deciding to End a Pregnancy
In rare situations, healthcare providers may recommend that patients with cancer terminate their pregnancies. This option is usually only suggested if the cancer is very aggressive, or the pregnant person is at risk for serious complications. Ending a pregnancy won’t improve your cancer prognosis, but it may allow you to start certain treatments sooner.
You should let your healthcare provider know if you experience any unusual or persistent symptoms, including:
- Vaginal bleeding
- Severe pain
- Shortness of breath
- Pain, swelling, or tenderness in one of your legs
- Blood in the urine or urinary problems
Prevalence of Cervical Cancer During Pregnancy
Cervical cancer during pregnancy is uncommon, but experts expect the rates to increase as more women are delaying childbirth. Studies show cervical cancer occurs in 0.8–1.5 out of every 10,000 births.
Cervical Cancer and Postpartum
Your postpartum experience will depend on the extent of your cancer and whether you started treatment during pregnancy. If you decided to wait until delivery, your healthcare provider might recommend that you begin treatment shortly afterward.
Pregnant patients with cervical cancer usually have a C-section and deliver their babies early. You might also need a hysterectomy at this time. After your surgery, you’ll probably spend a few days in the hospital. The recovery period is typically six weeks or longer.
While cancer cells can’t pass through breast milk and affect your baby, some medications can. Your healthcare provider will tell you not to breastfeed if you’re receiving chemotherapy, radioactive substances, or other risky drugs. You might be able to stop breastfeeding while you’re on these medications and then start up again once you stop taking them.
Having cancer during and after pregnancy can be overwhelming. You’re dealing with a scary diagnosis while also figuring out how to care for a newborn. It’s important to seek medical help if you develop any symptoms of postpartum depression, which may include:
- Feeling very sad and alone
- Frequent crying
- Difficulty sleeping
- Showing little interest in your baby
- Feeling worthless or anxious
- Loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy
- Unexplained weight loss or weight gain
- Feeling unmotivated to do everyday tasks
There are many therapies and treatments available to help, so consider seeking out a mental health professional if you are experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression.
A Word From Verywell
Making decisions about your cancer treatment when you’re pregnant can be difficult. Take your time and analyze your options carefully. Your healthcare provider should address all of your concerns and answer any questions you have. You may find it helpful to talk to a therapist or connect with someone in a support group who can help you through the process.