Agonizing Signs And Symptoms Of Breast Cancer During Pregnancy

Breast Cancer During Pregnancy

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October is the Breast Cancer Awareness Month all over the world and we can’t wait to share all about it to you, dear moms!

Breast cancer awareness is an initiative that aims to understand, discuss and share the sense of well-being of every woman. While millions of women all over the world have been diagnosed and treated for the condition, there is a lot of work that still needs to be done in this aspect. There is no solid cure for breast cancer. The sooner you detect the early signs signs of breast cancer during pregnancy and report to your doctor, the better it is!

Pregnancy And Breast Cancer:

Did you know that breast cancer can come at any phase of life? Pregnancy is no exception! The common myth is that women with no children are more prone to falling prey to cancer. But you cannot overlook the fact that sometimes, women can develop cancer symptoms even while they are pregnant.

What Causes Breast Cancer During Pregnancy?

Although rare, cancer cells in the breasts can sometimes develop during the three trimesters. The main causes for women to develop breast cancer during pregnancy are:

  1. Spike in the production of pregnancy hormones estrogen and progesterone that enable the cancer cells to grow and multiply.
  2. Genetic predisposition that triggers the onset of cancer during pregnancy when the reproductive part of a woman is in action mode.
  3. Family history of cancers.
  4. Late pregnancies where the risk of developing cancer is high.

[ Read: Breast Pain During Pregnancy ]

Why Is It Difficult To Check For Breast Cancer During Pregnancy?

Most times it is highly difficult to spot and diagnose pregnant women with breast cancer. This is because your hormonal shifts tend to change your breasts forever.

  • Your breasts may look large, tender and lumpy. It becomes difficult to find the presence of any lumps, as pregnancy makes the breast tissue denser.
  • You or your doctor won’t be able to notice the presence of the cancer lump until it grows large enough to stand out.

The delayed diagnosis because of pregnancy, makes it tougher to treat breast cancer in the later stages. By this time the cancer cells have grown enough to do the damage.

[ Read: Sore Breast During Pregnancy ]

How To Check For Breast Cancer During Pregnancy?

No matter how small, if you happen to notice a lump, do not hesitate to raise the red flag with your doctor.

  • A mammogram is not usually recommended when you are pregnant. Your doctor may take a call based on what stage of pregnancy you are in.
  • Imaging tests can also confirm the doubt.
  • Your doctor will call for a biopsy in case of any massive changes in your breasts.
  • Once a mammogram is recommended you will be put under the radiation with extra care. The radiation will focus only on your breasts while shielding the other parts of the body. The radiologist will place a lead shield on the lower part of your body covering your uterus.

Diagnosing Breast Cancer During Pregnancy:

In case your doctor finds an abnormal lump via mammogram or imaging tests a biopsy will be done to take the tissue from the lump to test for cancer.

  • The biopsy can be done via a surgical incision cut (in patient) or a simple needle (out-patient) procedure.
  • The area will be numbed with anesthesia before inserting the needle to take the tissue out.

[ Read: Breast Care During Pregnancy ]

Understanding The Staging Of Cancer:

Once there is a confirmation of cancer cells post biopsy your doctor will estimate the staging of cancer.

  • This is done to understand if the cancer cells are still within the confinement of your breast or have already spread to other parts of your body.
  • Staging is a vital process especially if you are pregnant. Most times the cancer is found spreading at an advanced stage.
  • Your doctor will recommend an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scan to check if the cancer cells have spread out beyond the breast area.
  • A contrast material that is usually injected for an MRI will not be used if you are pregnant as it carries a risk of crossing through your placenta.
  • Other tests such as chest X-rays and PET scans can also be recommended looking at an individual scenario.

Treatment Of Breast Cancer During Pregnancy:

Usually your doctor will decide the treatment based on your individual status while pregnant. The factors that would be considered are:

  • Tumor Size
  • Location of the tumor
  • How far the cancer has spread
  • How close you are to the due date
  • Your choice

Some important considerations:

  • If you need a chemotherapy, radiation light or hormone therapy, you may be asked to make a decision to end the pregnancy if you are in your early trimester.
  • It has to be noted that the choice of ending the pregnancy to undergo any treatment does not guarantee a long term cure. It is your choice alone to decide.
  • You may either pursue the pregnancy now and treat the cancer later on or end the pregnancy.
  • In case of advanced stages the call will be made by your doctor.

[ Read: Breast Changes During Pregnancy ]

Is Surgery A Viable Option During Pregnancy?

Removing a cancerous tissue via invasive surgery is effective while pregnant.

  • This decision is entirely up to your doctors. Performing an invasive operation under the influence of general anesthesia may prove to be riskier for the fetus while you are pregnant.
  • If a surgical method is indeed opted in your later stages of pregnancy, your gynecologist may be around to attend any crisis while performing the method.

You will be recommended either of the two surgeries looking at the scenarios:

  • Breast Conserving Surgery (BCS) to remove only the part of the breast with tumor.
  • Mastectomy to remove the entire breast.

[ Read: Is It Safe To Wear Bra During Pregnancy ]

Will The Cancer Spread From The Mother To The Fetus?

So far no reported cases of breast cancer spreading to the fetus have been found. In rare cases, if the cancer has reached the placenta it may affect the baby.

We recommend that you talk to your doctor about all the information related to breast cancer. Early detection helps tremendously with treatment options. Make sure you pay attention to your body while pregnant. A simple observation of your breasts will go a long way to help your doctor work along with you to tackle breast cancer.

Have your own breast cancer story to share? Write in and share with our fellow moms here.

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