Pregnant With Breast Cancer: Tough Choices, New Hope

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Pregnant With Cancer: New Hope

After the birth, Leiva quickly started a second string of chemo treatments with a more aggressive and toxic combination of drugs. And when her boys were 6 months old, she had both breasts and 11 lymph nodes removed.

"I didn't want to risk it," Leiva said, explaining her decision to opt for the radical 13-hour surgery over the less invasive lumpectomy. "These babies need to have their mother for a long time."

After the surgery, she had six more rounds of chemo and seven weeks of radiation.

"I wasn't really able to enjoy them as baby-babies," said Leiva, whose babies are now 3 years old. "But I was always thinking about when I get better, when my boys get bigger, and how I was going to be around to see it all."

Although pregnancy does not increase the risk of breast cancer, the decision by some women to delay motherhood might be increasing the number of pregnant women with cancer, according Lillian Shockney, a breast cancer nurse at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.

"We know age is a risk factor, and so is having your first child after age 30," said Shockney, who is also an associate professor of surgery, gynecology, oncology and obstetrics at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Pregnancy also causes breast changes that can mask the signs of cancer, delaying the diagnosis.

"I think a key message for women having babies if they see something different about their breasts -- even if a doctor says, 'Oh, your breasts are going to change because you're pregnant' -- go to a breast center for a clinical exam," she said. "Changes in one breast, not both, are a classic sign that something's wrong. Follow your instincts."

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