When Cancer Goes Undetected
While the new study has good news to offer women who require breast cancer treatment while pregnant, it also exposes a disturbing fact — pregnant women with breast cancer tend to be diagnosed later than those who are not pregnant. This means that by the time their cancers are found, they are generally worse.
“Women who present with breast cancer while pregnant on average have more advanced disease,” Perkins said. “This represents a phenomenon of delayed diagnosis. In many cases they don’t find out that they have breast cancer until after delivery.”
Part of the problem is the fact that pregnant women naturally experience changes in the breast. These expected changes may mask breast cancer symptoms, making detection less likely by both these women and their doctors.
“The natural tendency is to say that this is a benign process, and that we don’t have to be concerned about it,” Perkins said.
But Perkins added that he remains hopeful that as more evidence comes out that pregnant women have little to fear from cancer treatment, more will have stories similar to Sanchez’s. On Nov. 26, 2007, her baby, Isabella, was born. And Sanchez said that thus far, her daughter is meeting all of the normal benchmarks for children her age.
As for her own health, Sanchez is looking forward to this June, when it will be a year since she was declared cancer-free.
“I don’t really feel like a survivor yet, but everything looks good so far,” she said.