Cervical Cancer and Pregnancy
January 4, 2021Facing a cancer diagnosis during pregnancy can leave expecting moms feeling scared and overwhelmed. But understanding the risks and potential impacts of cervical cancer during pregnancy can help you feel less frightened and more empowered to undergo the best course of treatment. Remember, when found early, cervical cancer is highly treatable.1 That’s why it is so important to get a regular pap smear and cervical cancer screenings.
If you’ve been diagnosed with cervical cancer, precancer, or the human papilloma virus (HPV), you may want to educate yourself on how cervical cancer can affect different stages of pregnancy, from fertility to conception to postpartum. Keep in mind that HPV is a virus that often clears up on its own and does not necessarily mean that you will develop cervical cancer; however, HPV can lead to cervical cancer when left untreated.
Cervical Cancer and Fertility
When a woman is diagnosed with cervical cancer, she may feel she has to choose between treatments that work best for her body and preserving her fertility. The three most common treatments for early-stage cervical cancer include cone biopsy, hysterectomy, and chemoradiation. Future pregnancies are not possible after a hysterectomy or radiation therapy; however, a cone biopsy may not be effective enough to treat the cancer in some patients.
Some women with early-stage cervical cancer may be good candidates for a simple trachelectomy (in which a portion of the cervix is removed) or radical trachelectomy (in which the entire cervix is removed along with the surrounding tissue but the uterus is left intact.)2 Women with more advanced cervical cancer may have fewer options for treatment. In some cases, when the patient wishes to preserve a pregnancy, treatment can be delayed until after the patient gives birth. There is no single treatment that fits everyone when it comes to battling cervical cancer during pregnancy. Determining the best option will depend on multiple factors, including gestational stage, disease stage, histology, and the mother’s personal preference.3
How Cervical Cancer Can Affect Pregnancy
Pregnancy under the best circumstances can present challenges. Even the healthiest expecting moms will likely experience common pregnancy discomforts, and some will face unexpected complications. Being pregnant while also dealing with cervical cancer can add extra challenges, including making very difficult decisions.
If you are less than three months pregnant, your doctor may recommend beginning treatment right away instead of delaying treatment until after you give birth. If you decide to move forward with treatment, you may decide it’s best to terminate the pregnancy. As distressing as the choice may be, you will have the support of your medical team, whatever you decide to do. If you want to continue with the pregnancy, your doctor may feel it’s best to delay your cancer treatment until you are further along to reduce the risk of miscarriage or damage to your baby.
The additional emotional stress you may feel from facing a cancer diagnosis also can impact your pregnancy. Although everyone experiences stress from time to time, feeling high levels of stress for a prolonged period can lead to issues with blood pressure, lowered immune function, difficulty sleeping, difficulty eating, and more.4
Because stress can be so damaging, especially during pregnancy, it is recommended that you seek treatment for your mental health, spiritual health, and emotional health as part of your overall cancer treatment plan.
Living with Cervical Cancer Postpartum
Sometimes women are diagnosed with cervical cancer after having a baby. Cervical cancer associated with pregnancy is one of the most common cancers found during pregnancy or postpartum; however, it only occurs in approximately 0.004% to 0.1% of pregnant and postpartum women, making it relatively rare overall.5
Cervical Cancer Screenings, Early Detection, and Vaccines
The best way to prevent cervical cancer is to get regular cervical cancer screenings. Usually, cervical cancer’s outward symptoms do not appear until abnormal cells become cancerous and invade nearby tissue. Some of these symptoms may include the following6:
- Vaginal bleeding after intercourse, in between periods, or after menopause
- Pelvic pain or pain during intercourse
- Heavy, watery, or bloody discharge that may have a foul odor
Because the disease can advance before symptoms appear, it is very important to get regular screenings through pap smears and HPV tests.
There are some vaccines that can prevent cervical cancer that’s caused by HPV. These vaccines are available to all people between the ages of 9 and 45 years old. Because the virus can affect men and women, it is recommended that the vaccine be administered to boys and girls around the age of 11 or 12, before they become sexually active.7 The vaccine is only effective at preventing certain types of HPV before infection.7
Other ways to prevent cervical cancer include not smoking, practicing safe sex, and maintaining a generally healthy lifestyle.6
Resources and Support
You are not alone in your fight against cervical cancer. You can use these online resources to educate yourself, connect with medical professionals, and find support.
- Cervical Cancer Support Community: https://www.cancersupportcommunity.org/cervical-cancer
- Free & Low-Cost Cervical Cancer Screenings Near Me: https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/nbccedp/screenings.htm
- Cervical Cancer Overview: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cervical-cancer.html
Prenate® Vitamin Family
This post is sponsored by the Prenate® Vitamin Family, a line of prescription prenatal supplements designed to enhance preconception, prenatal, and postpartum nutrition in women. Talk with your doctor about how taking a daily prescription prenatal or postnatal vitamin could help support a healthy pregnancy and postpartum wellness.