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Health Team

'Miracle Baby' Born as Mother Battles Breast Cancer

Posted October 25, 2007 5:02 p.m. EDT
Updated October 26, 2007 12:25 a.m. EDT

— Imagine the joy of being pregnant mixed with the shocking news of having breast cancer. It happens to about one in 3,000 women, according to health experts.

The odds might increase as more women wait to have children later in life. However, doctors can tailor the cancer treatment without harming the baby.

Michelle Simmons was 33 when she noticed a visible lump in her breast in July 2004. It was a small malignant tumor. Then, Simmons found out on Sept. 2 that she was pregnant.

“So it was a week prior to my lumpectomy when I found out that I was pregnant,” she said.

Dr. Carey Anders, an oncologist at Duke University Medical Center, and a team of doctors developed a new strategy to treat Simmons' cancer.

She had a lumpectomy – but the standard sentinel lymph node biopsy, which includes using a radioactive dye, might have harmed the baby.

“They just went in around the tumor and pulled as many lymph nodes as they could,” Simmons said.

The cancer had not spread to lymph nodes. Chemotherapy would have to wait until after the first trimester – and then only a few chemotherapy drugs are considered safe.

“And there has actually been fairly good evidence for good outcomes for mothers and babies treated with chemotherapy during pregnancy,” Anders said.

Anders said the window for chemo treatment is tricky “because we don’t want the chemotherapy in the mother’s system at the time of delivery.”

It could induce early labor, so doctors stop chemo within three weeks of delivery. Simmons' delivery was four weeks early. Her daughter, Macey, weighed just 5 pounds, but was healthy.

“[She’s] 2 ½ years old going on 15 [and she’s] very healthy,” Simmons said.

After the birth, Simmons said she had new strength to endure radiation and beat the cancer. She's hopeful it won't return so she can enjoy more time with her husband and daughter.

“I definitely consider her to be a miracle baby,” she said.

The American Cancer Society recommends women in their 20s and 30s perform regular breast self-exams and receive clinical breast exams by their doctor every three years. Then, starting at age 40, combine those exams with annual mammograms.

If you have a family history of breast cancer, talk to your doctor about earlier screening – especially before planning pregnancy.