Chemotherapy during pregnancy

Cancer in pregnancy is rare. Your healthcare team work closely with your pregnancy care team. They will will discuss your treatment options with you and help you come to a decision that is right for you.

You can sometimes delay chemotherapy until your baby is born, but this isn’t always possible.

Having chemotherapy during pregnancy

You can usually have chemotherapy after you are 14 weeks pregnant. It is not recommended before 14 weeks as it can harm the developing baby or cause a miscarriage.

In pregnancy the placenta Open a glossary item is a barrier between you and the baby. Some drugs can pass through the placenta and others can’t. So giving certain chemotherapy drugs after 14 weeks will not harm the baby. Doctors will avoid giving any drugs that could be harmful.

Research shows that babies exposed to chemotherapy after 14 weeks don’t have any more problems than those who aren’t exposed. The baby will have follow up to check their progress and check for any other possible risks.

Monitoring during pregnancy 

You have a team looking after you and making a plan for your treatment. This will include: 

  • cancer doctors
  • cancer specialist nurses 
  • pregnancy doctors (obstetricians)  
  • midwives 

You might need more appointments with your obstetrician to see how you are feeling and to monitor the baby's progress. 

Giving birth

It is often possible to have your baby naturally. But sometimes your doctor might suggest your labour is induced or you have a caesarean section.

Your chemotherapy should stop around 3 weeks before the baby is due. This is because chemotherapy increases the risk of:

  • infection during delivery
  • bleeding when giving birth

Risk of the baby being born early

Chemotherapy may increase the risk of delivering your baby early. There is also evidence to suggest that your baby may have a lower birth weight.

Your team will check you closely and will plan for you to have your baby as close to your due date as possible.


It isn’t safe for you to breastfeed while you are having chemotherapy. This is because the drugs could be passed onto the baby in your breast milk.

You might be able to start breastfeeding once your chemotherapy is finished if you don’t need any other treatment. Your healthcare team can give you advice about how to do this.

Making decisions about your pregnancy

Sometimes you need to start chemotherapy quickly to control the cancer. In this situation your doctor may suggest that it is best to end the pregnancy. In early pregnancy this might mean a termination. In later pregnancy it might mean delivering the baby early.

This is obviously a very big decision and is upsetting. You will need help and support to decide on the best thing for you to do. 

Talk to your healthcare team about your pregnancy. Make sure you completely understand all your choices and any risks before you make any decisions.

  • Cancer in pregnancy: FIGO cancer report
    MH Botha, S Rajaram and K Karunaratne
    International Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics, 2018. Volume 143. Pages 137-142

  • Patient-centered care in the management of cancer during pregnancy
    K Sorouri and others
    American Society of Clinical Oncology Educational Book, 2023. Volume 43, e100037

  • Pregnancy and Breast Cancer: Green-top Guideline No. 12
    Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, 2011

  • The effects of cancer treatment on reproductive functions: guidance on management
    Royal College of Physicians, The Royal College of Radiologists and Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, 2007

  • Gynecologic cancers in pregnancy: guidelines based on a third international consensus meeting
    F Amant and others
    Annals of Oncology, 2019. Volume 30. Pages 1601-1612

  • The information on this page is based on literature searches and specialist checking. We used many references and there are too many to list here. If you need additional references for this information please contact with details of the particular issue you are interested in.

Last reviewed: 
23 May 2024
Next review due: 
24 May 2027

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