Cancer symptoms and pregnancy

Pregnancy does not change the symptoms of a cancer. They depend on the type of cancer you have. But the changes that happen to a woman’s body during pregnancy may delay a cancer being diagnosed. This is because some cancer symptoms may be similar to changes that happen during pregnancy.

For example:

  • A woman’s breast tissue changes during pregnancy. Sometimes a lump or another breast symptom could be put down to this. Doctors may be less suspicious of breast changes in pregnant women.
  • Women can have some vaginal bleeding during pregnancy. Vaginal bleeding can also be a symptom of cancer of the cervix.
  • Cancers such as lymphoma or leukaemia can cause tiredness and breathlessness. Pregnant women also sometimes experience these symptoms.
  • Sometimes women develop new moles during pregnancy, or some existing moles get bigger. These changes can also be symptoms of a skin cancer called melanoma.
  • Bowel changes, such as constipation and haemorrhoids (piles), are more common during pregnancy. Constipation and bleeding from the back passage can also be symptoms of bowel cancer. Bowel cancer is uncommon in pregnancy, but it is important to have any possible symptoms checked.

If you have any symptoms that could be linked to cancer, it is important to get them checked by your GP. You should have the same checks as if you were not pregnant. Ask your doctor what the guidelines are for checking your symptoms. Tell them if you have had any pre-cancerous conditions or cancer in the past. You should also let them know if you have any family history of cancer.

Cancer can also be diagnosed through routine pregnancy checks. Always tell your midwife or pregnancy doctor (obstetrician) about any new symptoms you have.

The earlier a cancer is diagnosed, the more successful treatment is. We have more information about cancer symptoms.

If you think your symptoms need to be checked further, talk to your doctor or midwife. You can ask to see another GP, or to be referred to a specialist.