Breast Cancer and Pregnancy

For women, there are often special concerns regarding breast cancer, and pregnancy can certainly complicate both detection and treatment. For example, breast cancer is often detected at a later stage in pregnant women. Surgery is the most common cancer treatment for women who are dealing with both breast cancer and pregnancy. While radiation therapy or chemotherapy may be used to treat breast cancer detected in women who are pregnant, they are generally not used in the first three months of pregnancy. If surgery, chemotherapy, or anticancer medication is necessary after delivery, breast-feeding may need to be stopped.

Breast Cancer and Pregnancy: An Overview

In women who are pregnant or who have just given birth, breast cancer occurs most often between the ages of 32 and 38. Breast cancer occurs in about 1 in every 3,000 pregnancies.
It may be difficult to find breast cancer early in pregnant or nursing women, whose breasts are often tender and swollen. Women who are pregnant, nursing, or have just given birth usually have tender, swollen breasts. This can make small lumps difficult to detect and may lead to delays in diagnosing breast cancer. Because of these delays, cancers are often found at a later stage in these women.

Screening for Breast Cancer During Pregnancy

To detect breast cancer, pregnant and nursing women should undergo regular breast cancer screening. This includes examining their breasts themselves. Women should also receive clinical breast examinations during their routine prenatal and postnatal examinations.

Staging Breast Cancer During Pregnancy

While breast cancer stages and the process of staging are no different for pregnant women, certain staging tests may be adjusted for women who are pregnant. For example, standard methods for giving imaging scans can be adjusted so that the fetus is exposed to less radiation.
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