According to the National Cancer Institute, breast cancer occurs in one in every 3,000 pregnancies on average.
While it's rare, it does happen, which is why it's important to keep an eye on your breast health and know about the importance of self-breast exams during pregnancy, as well as how breast cancer treatment is handled during pregnancy.
Understanding breast cancer
When you become pregnant, a number of changes occur within your body. The breasts are one area that is often affected, as pregnancy usually causes a woman's breasts to become larger, tender or even lumpy. However, while common in pregnancy, these symptoms can also be early signs of breast cancer.
The most common signs of breast cancer include:
- Breast pain
- A lump or mass in the breast
- Pain in nipple
- Skin irritation or dimpling
- Swelling of all or part of the breast, even if no lump is felt
- Nipple retraction (turning inward) and/or discharge
- Red, scaly or thickened nipple or breast tissue
Because there's some overlap between pregnancy-related breast symptoms and breast cancer symptoms, it's important to keep a careful eye on your breasts and report any changes to your doctor. In particular, you want to have a good understanding of what's normal for your breasts so you'll be able to spot anything that's unusual.
In addition to keeping an eye on your own health, it's also important to have your breasts checked by your OB/GYN at least once annually during a checkup. This clinical breast exam is a normal part of checking up on your health, and it is important even during pregnancy.
If breast cancer is suspected
There are a number of tests that can be utilized in the diagnosis of breast cancer, such as:
- Physical exam
- Clinical breast exam
- Ultrasound exam
If breast cancer is found during pregnancy, you and your doctor will work together to determine the best course of treatment for you and your unborn child. There are multiple forms of treatment that can be considered, including surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.
It is important to remember that even if a woman receives a breast cancer diagnosis during pregnancy, she can still go on to have a healthy baby!
While we're well-known for The Birth Place, Parkridge East Hospital offers comprehensive care for women, including digital mammography for the detection of breast cancer.