Good news on the active management of pregnant cancer patients

F1000Res. 2020 Jun 1:9:F1000 Faculty Rev-487. doi: 10.12688/f1000research.22472.1. eCollection 2020.


Cancer occurs in approximately 1/1000 to 1/2000 pregnancies and presents complex medical and ethical dilemmas for patients and providers. The most common cancers diagnosed in the gestational period include breast, cervical, melanoma, and lymphomas. The majority of existing evidence regarding the treatment of cancer during pregnancy is derived from experiences with breast cancer. Other cancers often pose unique challenges given the location of the tumors and their traditional mode of treatment with pelvic surgery and radiation. Additionally, many emerging therapies for cancer target mechanisms that are necessary for fetal development, such as angiogenesis, and are contraindicated in pregnant women. Although limitations on the treatment of cancer during pregnancy currently exist, increasing evidence shows that many surgical and systemic therapies can be effective for a mother's oncologic outcomes without significant detriment to the developing fetus. Traditional perspectives of cancer during gestation may sway providers to encourage pregnancy termination, delays in therapy, or early delivery. However, recent studies and reviews discourage such practices. Although every cancer diagnosis in pregnancy requires an individualized approach and should use the multidisciplinary perspectives of maternal-fetal medicine specialists as well as medical and surgical oncologists, providers should feel empowered to safely employ systemic, surgical, and even reserved cases of radiation therapies for their pregnant patients with cancer. The aim of this review is to highlight some of the recent advances in cancer therapies for common cancer subtypes and encourage providers to use this growing body of evidence to employ treatments with curative intent while continuing to evaluate the long-term effects of these therapies on mothers and their children.

Keywords: Cancer; Chemotherapy; Pregnancy; Radiation; Surgery.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms
  • Female
  • Fetus
  • Humans
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications, Neoplastic / therapy*

Grants and funding

The author(s) declared that no grants were involved in supporting this work.