Though not very common, even conceiving mothers may suffer from breast cancer without even knowing. Hormonal changes due to pregnancy can increase the growth of cancer cells, but pregnancy alone is not responsible for causing cancer.
When you are expecting to become a mom, your breasts start thickening, and it becomes even harder to spot lumps or masses. Due to this reason, tumors of breast cancer are usually more evolved and larger when you notice. So, it is very vital to go for a breast checkup before planning to get pregnant. It is important for a doctor to check for any suspicious symptoms or lumps.
How to check if you have breast cancer?
It becomes important to know how your breast normally feels and looks. This is important because you become aware of any changes in your breast. There are some changes that point towards breast cancer. Some of these changes are discussed below. However, we strongly recommend consulting with experienced and senior breast cancer surgeons like Dr Sandra Krishnan who ensure if you have breast cancer or not.
Lump in the breast
The presence of painless, hard lumps is one of the most common symptoms of breast cancer. However, there are cases when the lumps become painful.
You must also note that all lumps don’t point to breast cancer. Lumps can also be caused by cysts or similar benign breast conditions.
You should visit a doctor right away if you feel your breast skin turning thick, scaly and red. This may be caused by mastitis. It is a type of breast infection. However, if the above symptoms don’t improve even after a week, you should revisit a doctor.
Inflammatory breast cancer causes swelling of your breast. Not only swelling of your breast but also swelling of the regions surrounding the breast can be caused.
If there is a discharge from the nipple other than milk, you should visit a doctor. This becomes alarming when the discharge is bloody. Moreover, breast cancer can also cause changes in your nipple shape. Some women also observe hard nipples
Breast pain is generally caused in relation to the menstrual cycle of women. Not always but there are cases when breast cancer causes pain in the breast. It is better to visit a doctor and get checked in case of breast pain.
While getting pregnant, seeing your doctor on a regular basis is the best thing you can do on a regular basis. These checkups are known as prenatal ones, and they are very vital to ensure good overall health for both you and your baby. You may need to undergo breast checkups during these visits when it comes to looking for changes.
You can also test on your own at home. This way, you are more likely to see if there are any changes in breasts. If you don’t know how to test your breasts, you can ask your doctor.
During pregnancy, a mammogram might be recommended as a safe way to diagnose the condition. Due to the higher density of breasts, it may not help. It is better to go for a 3D mammogram. Your doctor may want to do a biopsy if there is any weird lump in your breast. She will make a minor cut or use a needle to take some samples of the affected tissue. Your doctor may also recommend an ultrasound to guide the biopsy and determine the extent of the disease.
Treatment – Pregnancy and Delivery
Even if you are diagnosed with this condition when you are pregnant, you can still get proper treatment without even affecting the growth of your baby a bit. Your doctors should ensure providing the best treatment while taking care of your infant. There are three trimesters of pregnancy, and each consists of several weeks, for example –
- The first trimester starts from conceiving to 12 weeks
- The second trimester starts from 13th to 28th week
- Third and last one starts from 28th week to delivery
When it comes to treating breast cancer during pregnancy, it all relies on when you are diagnosed with this condition and how far you are into this condition, the extent, and type of breast cancer, and your own condition. The key here is to maintain balance – giving the best treatment and taking care of your baby at the same time.
Surgery can be performed with safety in all trimesters. You may get to choose between a breast-conserving procedure and a mastectomy. Basically, mastectomy is recommended in the first trimester. Radiotherapy is not required for all women who undergo a mastectomy.
Radiotherapy is prescribed usually after surgery of breast-conserving. There is a risk that radiation can pass to the baby. So, it is not considered safe during pregnancy. Breast-conserving surgery may be another option during the second trimester if you are going to have chemotherapy post-surgery. After going through chemotherapy, radiotherapy will be provided after childbirth.
Breast-conserving surgery is also recommended if you are diagnosed in the third trimester. Later on, radiotherapy is given after childbirth. General anesthesia is given in all kinds of surgical procedures. So, it is usually safe if you are pregnant. If you are in the first trimester, there might be a risk of miscarriage.
Is it safe to breastfeed my baby with breast cancer?
There is no scientific evidence found that claims the improvement in cancer by flowing your breast milk. In most cases, it is safe to breastfeed with breast cancer. But you should ask your lactation counselor or doctor to figure out what is safe for you and your child. Breastfeeding is not safe while getting chemotherapy as some powerful chemo medications may pass to the baby through your milk.
How to keep my baby safe if I am diagnosed with breast cancer?
First of all, having breast cancer doesn’t mean you should end your pregnancy. No evidence claims that cancer cells can affect your baby. But it is also true that there are certain risks associated with treatments.
Usually, surgery is safe no matter it is done in the first or third trimester. In the early stages of cancer, your doctor might recommend mastectomy (treating the whole breast) or lumpectomy (removing the suspicious lump). Mastectomy is usually recommended in the first or second trimester.
If you are diagnosed with breast cancer in 3rd trimester, a lumpectomy might be recommended. Radiation therapy is dangerous for your baby. So, it usually starts after pregnancy.