Cervical cancer during pregnancy

Cervical cancer during pregnancy can happen, but it is usually that a woman already had cancer, and it was discovered during pregnancy.

Some women rarely go for Pap smears, and so when they go in for a prenatal visit, that's when an abnormal Pap smear result is found. It's routine for a doctor to do a Pap smear on a first prenatal visit.  My obstetrician told me that about 50% of women get their first Pap smear during pregnancy!  Ladies, don't let that be you--go for your well-woman visit every year, pregnant or not.

If the Pap smear shows HPV but no dysplasia, usually your doctor will just redo the test after you deliver.  Often, it will be normal after pregnancy.  Pregnancy is a time when your immune system is intentionally subdued so that your body doesn't reject the baby, but because of that, HPV can rear its little head.  

If a pregnant woman has HPV and dysplasia, the doctor will need to do an exam with the colposcope and take a biopsy. However, considering how slow cervical cancer grows, they will wait until the second trimester because they don't want to disturb the cervix in the first trimester.  A biopsy is only on the outside of the cervix, not up inside the uterus, so the baby won't be touched.  

However, once in a while, a woman has a visible tumor on her cervix, and the doctor will want to biopsy it immediately.

Again, because cervical cancer grows slowly and the pregnancy hormones don't make it worse, any treatment can usually wait until after delivery.

However, if treatment is necessary during pregnancy, the doctor will want to do it sometime in the second trimester. Cone biopsies and LEEPs have been done safely during pregnancy, and it usually causes no problems for the baby.

Just so you know, though, there are times when advanced cancer is discovered early in the pregnancy and a very difficult decision has to be made--continue the pregnancy and perhaps risk the mother's life or have a hysterectomy, which also ends the pregnancy. Take care of yourself before pregnancy so that you never have to be in that position.

Read Erica's story--she found out she had early stage cervical cancer just weeks after her baby was born. So, it can happen, and early detection can save your chances for children.