The news that you are pregnant can be thrilling and overwhelming. You may be delighted, terrified or both.
Throw in a breast cancer diagnosis though and fear can win the day.
Arming yourself with information will help you get through the challenging days ahead of you.
Breast cancer is harder to detect when you're pregnant because your breasts become enlarged and more prone to lumps. This can mean that the cancer may be at a more advanced stage when it is discovered.
Breast lumps that are benign (not cancerous) are not unusual during pregnancy. To be sure though, you should see a doctor if you find a lump.
Breast cancer can cause the shape or size of your breast to change. A thickened area or lump may appear near your breast or under your arm.
A puckering or dimple in your breast or a nipple turning inward may indicate the presence of breast cancer.
If you have redness or scaliness on your nipple or areola, or if fluid that is not breast milk exudes from the nipple you should see your doctor.
Keep in mind, none of these symptoms are necessarily indications of breast cancer. But they should be investigated to be sure one way or the other.
Breast cancer discovered during pregnancy may have moved into the lymph nodes by the time it's found. Denser breast tissue can also make it more difficult to accurately interpret mammogram results during pregnancy.
One test that may be used in checking for breast cancer is a clinical breast exam or CBE. Your doctor will feel for lumps or any abnormalities in your breasts and underarms.
If your doctor decides you need a breast biopsy while you are pregnant, a piece of tissue will be removed with a long needle or through a small incision. This is often done on an outpatient basis.
If the biopsy finds breast cancer your doctor will want to perform a process called staging. This will determine how advanced the cancer is.
Treatment of the cancer will be affected by a number of factors.
Where is the tumor? How big is it?
Has the cancer spread? How far? How far into your pregnancy are you?
Ultrasound and MRI scans may be used to gain more information. They don't involve radiation so they are safe for the baby.
MRIs using contrast dye are not advised for pregnant women as a precaution because the contrast dye will cross the placenta to the baby.
Chest X-rays may be used, with the added safety feature of a lead shield like an apron over the belly.
Cancer.org said that the rate of breast cancer in pregnancy falls between 1 in 1,000 and 1 in 10,000 women. The National Cancer Institute said that 1 in 3,000 pregnancies can be affected by breast cancer.
Being Diagnosed During Pregnancy. Breastcancer.org. Retrieved Oct. 22, 2012.
Pregnancy and Breast Cancer. Cancer.org. Retrieved Oct. 22, 2012.
General Information about Breast Cancer and Pregnancy. Cancer.gov. Retrieved Oct. 22, 2012.
Reviewed October 23, 2012
Michele Blacksberg RN