- Related Resources - Breast Cancer: Breast Cancer During Pregnancy
- Breast Cancer Slideshow
- Take the Breast Cancer Quiz
- Breast Cancer Screening
- Find a local Oncologist in your town
- How is breast cancer diagnosed in pregnant women?
- What if I do have cancer? Will I have to lose my baby?
- Can I breastfeed my baby if I have breast cancer?
- I had breast cancer, but I have been successfully treated for it. Is it OK for me to get pregnant? Will this harm either me or my baby?
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in pregnant women and tends to affect women in their mid-30s. Although only about 1 in every 1,000 pregnant women get breast cancer, the disease can be devastating to both the mother and her child -- so it is essential that pregnant women and their doctors continue to do routine breast exams and thoroughly investigate any suspicious lumps.
A major problem is that a lot of changes take place in a woman's breasts during pregnancy. This makes it harder to identify suspicious lumps. In addition, breast cancer tumors in pregnant women are often larger and more advanced by the time they are detected than lumps in women of the same age who are not pregnant.
How is breast cancer diagnosed in pregnant women?
The best thing you can do while pregnant is to see your obstetrician regularly. These doctor visits, called prenatal (or "before birth") visits, are very important in keeping both you and your baby in the best possible health. During these visits, your obstetrician will perform a breast examination to check for suspicious breast changes.
It is also important to regularly perform breast exams on yourself. Your doctor or nurse can teach you how to do this properly.
If a suspicious lump is found, your doctor will likely ask you to get a mammogram or an ultrasound. As in all procedures that expose you to radiation when you are pregnant, the technicians will take extra care to shield your baby from radiation during the mammogram.
If the lump is still suspicious after these tests, the doctor will usually perform a biopsy. In fact, your doctor will often recommend that you get a biopsy even if the initial tests come back negative. During the biopsy, a small sample of the suspicious tissue will be removed with a needle or by making a small cut. This sample is then thoroughly examined using a microscope and other methods to detect any cancer cells.
What if I do have cancer? Will I have to lose my baby?
First of all, abortion of the baby does not improve the mother's chances of surviving the cancer.
Second, there is no evidence that breast cancer can harm the baby. What can harm the baby are some of the treatments for breast cancer -- and these depend on how far advanced the cancer is. This is another reason why it is so important to detect these and other cancers early.
If the cancer is still in the early stages (Stage I or II), the doctor will most likely recommend that you have surgery to remove either the suspicious lump (lumpectomy) or the affected breast (mastectomy). During the operation, the surgeon will examine the lymph nodes to see whether any are affected and will (usually) remove the lymph nodes where the cancer is most likely to have spread. If is it necessary to give chemotherapy, your doctor will usually wait until after the first trimester to reduce the chances that it will harm the baby.
If the cancer is more advanced (Stage III or IV), the situation can become very complicated. If radiation is needed to treat the cancer, it can be very hard to protect the baby. Additionally, these cancers usually require both surgery and chemotherapy, so the risk of harming the baby is much higher. There have been instances where the cancer is advanced to the point where any treatment is not likely to add more than a year or two to the woman's life. In these cases, whether or not to undergo the treatment and risk harming the baby can be an agonizing decision for both the woman and her family.
Can I breastfeed my baby if I have breast cancer?
However, if you are undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer, you should not breastfeed because these powerful chemotherapy drugs can travel through your breast milk to the baby.
I had breast cancer, but I have been successfully treated for it. Is it OK for me to get pregnant? Will this harm either me or my baby?
Some doctors feel that postponing pregnancy for two years or so after being treated for breast cancer will make it less likely that your cancer will come back while you are pregnant, and lead to the problems discussed earlier in this section.
Reviewed by the doctors at The Cleveland Clinic Taussig Cancer Center.
Edited by Charlotte E. Grayson, MD, WebMD, February 2004.
Portions of this page © The Cleveland Clinic 2000-2005
- FDA's Food Safety Program Needs a Revamp: Panel
- Drug Choice Might Matter for Patients With Macular Degeneration
- Record Number of Fatal Drug ODs for Pregnant, Postpartum Women
- Minor Facial Scars Don't Affect Others' First Impressions, Study Finds
- U.S. States With Tighter Access to Welfare Payments Have More Kids in Foster Care
- More Health News »
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Top Breast Cancer During Pregnancy Related Articles
Breast BiopsyThere are several types of breast biopsies, which are diagnostic procedures to examine part or all of suspicious breast growth(s). The types of breast biopsies include fine needle aspiration (FNA), core needle breast biopsy (CNB), vacuum-assisted breast biopsy, and excision breast biopsy (surgery, lumpectomy). The type of breast biopsy procedure depends upon the location and size of the growth(s).
Breast Cancer Follow-Up Self-ExamA breast cancer follow-up self-exam is a test that may help a woman detect a recurrence of the disease. A woman should perform a monthly self-exam of both breasts as well as attend scheduled follow-up appointments to detect any breast cancer recurrence early. Lymph node involvement, tumor size, hormone receptor status, histologic grade, nuclear grade, and oncogene expression help determine the likelihood of a recurrence.
Breast Cancer SlidesLearn about breast cancer causes, symptoms, tests, recovery, and prevention. Discover the types of treatments such as surgery and drug therapies as well as the survival rate for breast cancer.
Breast Cancer QuizThis Breast Cancer Quiz features signs, symptoms, facts, causes, common forms, terms, risk factors, statistics, and more. Increase your awareness of breast cancer now!
Breast Lumps (in Women)Breast lumps in women can have a variety of causes such as breast inflammation, infection, injuries, cancer, and non-cancerous growths. Breast lumps in women are diagnosed with physical exam, mammogram, ultrasound, MRI, and biopsy. Treatment of breast lumps in women depend on the cause.
Breastfeeding (and Formula Feeding)It's important to know whether you will breastfeed or bottle-feed your baby prior to delivery, as the breasts' ability to produce milk diminishes soon after childbirth without the stimulation of breastfeeding. Breast milk is easily digested by babies and contains infection-fighting antibodies and cholesterol, which promotes brain growth. Formula-fed babies actually need to eat somewhat less often since formula is less readily digested by the baby than human milk. This article explores the advantages and disadvantages of both forms of feeding.
CancerCancer is a disease caused by an abnormal growth of cells, also called malignancy. It is a group of 100 different diseases, and is not contagious. Cancer can be treated through chemotherapy, a treatment of drugs that destroy cancer cells.
LymphedemaLymphedema is a condition in which one or more extremities become swollen as the result of an impaired flow of the lymphatic system. There are two types of lymphedema: primary and secondary. Filariasis is the most common cause of lymphedema worldwide. In the U.S., breast cancer surgery is the most common cause. Symptoms include swelling of one or more limbs, cracked and thickening skin, and secondary bacterial or fungal infections of the skin. There is no cure for lymphedema.
MammogramMammogram is a test that produces an image of the breast tissue on film. The technique is referred to as mammography. Mammography can visualize normal and abnormal structures within the breast such as cysts, calcifications, and tumors looking for breast cancer. The first baseline mammogram for a woman should be between the ages of 35 to 40.
Pregnancy (Week by Week, Trimesters)Signs and symptoms of pregnancy vary by stage (trimester). The earliest pregnancy symptom is typically a missed period, but others include breast swelling and tenderness, nausea and sometimes vomiting, fatigue, and bloating. Second trimester symptoms include backache, weight gain, itching, and possible stretch marks. Third trimester symptoms are additional weight gain, heartburn, hemorrhoids, swelling of the ankles, fingers, and face, breast tenderness, and trouble sleeping. Eating a healthy diet, getting a moderate amount of exercise, also are recommended for a healthy pregnancy. Information about the week by week growth of your baby in the womb are provided.
Pregnancy Planning (Tips)Pregnancy planning is an important step in preparation for starting or expanding a family. Planning for a pregnancy includes taking prenatal vitamins, eating healthy for you and your baby, disease prevention (for both parents and baby) to prevent birth defects and infections, avoiding certain medications that may be harmful to your baby, how much weight gain is healthy exercise safety and pregnancy, travel during pregnancy.
Swollen Lymph Nodes (Glands)Lymph nodes help the body's immune system fight infections. Causes of swollen lymph nodes (glands) may include infection (viral, bacterial, fungal, parasites). Symptoms of swollen lymph nodes vary greatly, but may include fever, night sweats, toothache, sore throat, or weight loss. Causes of swollen lymph nodes also vary, but may include cancer, the common cold, mono, chickenox, HIV, and herpes. The treatment of swollen lymph nodes depends upon the cause.