How safe is chemo for an unborn baby? We asked a doctor.

By Samantha Lauriello
April 08, 2019

Just a few weeks after she found out she was pregnant with her second child, Jordana Beck received some news that turned one of the happiest times of her life into one of the most challenging: She was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer. 

Beck, 32, was 11 weeks pregnant when she got the diagnosis. She had found a lump on her breast, and doctors confirmed it was cancer. She actually had two tumors in her breast, both of which were triple-negative—a very aggressive form of breast cancer. 

In a recent interview on TODAY, Beck said, "I have always been really healthy. I exercise, I eat well, I’m proactive if anything ever feels wrong."

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At the 13-week mark—the beginning of her second trimester—Beck opted to have a single mastectomy after doctors assured her it would be safe for her unborn son. “When I woke up from that surgery and came out of the anesthesia, his heartbeat was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard," she said. 

Now Beck is in her eighth month of pregnancy, and she and her husband, John, are amazed by how strong their little boy already is. "We call this baby our little warrior," she said on Today. "He has been through a really big surgery and now eight rounds of chemotherapy before even taking a breath on earth." (A recent Instagram post shows Beck has now had nine rounds of chemo.)

Marleen Meyers, MD, a medical oncologist at NYU Langone Health, tells Health that although pregnancy does significantly limit treatment options for breast cancer, there are a limited number of chemo medications that are safe for the baby.

Meyers says she's treated a number of pregnant women. During childbirth, the mom can be bald from chemo, yet her baby is born with a full head of hair. "If often gives the parents a lot of reassurance that in fact the chemotherapy did not affect the fetus," she says. 

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Some surgeries aren't safe for a pregnant breast cancer patient, but others are, like mastectomy. However, both surgery and chemotherapy are only safe once the mother is in the second trimester, Meyers says. Ultimately, every case of cancer is different, and treatments that are safe for one person may not be safe for another. 

Luckily, the cancer itself can't harm the baby, and many women can be treated for the disease while pregnant—though they may not be able to go through some treatments reserved for more aggressive types, Meyers says. 

With just a few weeks to go until Beck is expected to give birth, she says the support of her family, including her father-in-law, is getting her through. Her family, on the other hand, says her positive attitude has helped them. 

In a recent Instagram post, Beck wrote, "1 in 8 women are diagnosed with breast cancer⁣... 1 in 3000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer while pregnant... I will be 1 more to beat breast cancer."

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