1 out of every 1,000 pregnant women gets breast cancer. That’s a sobering statistic, but one that is essential for pregnant women to be aware of. A lot of changes take place in a woman’s breasts during pregnancy and small lumps often go uninvestigated. Hormonal variations in your body can accelerate cancerous growth, so it’s critical to be alert. Make sure your doctor continues routine breast exams. And be vigilant yourself about any tissue abnormalities. Self-exams are critical for all women, at all ages. Pregnant women often suspend self-examination due to tenderness or discomfort. But this is definitely a time to stay on top of things. If a suspicious lump is found, your doctor will likely do a biopsy or ultrasound. Mammograms are not helpful, because breasts increase dramatically in density during pregnancy and clear readings are difficult.
So what if the unthinkable happens? The first, most important thing to know is that there is no evidence that breast cancer will harm the baby. What’s at issue are some of the treatments for breast cancer…and those depend on how advanced the disease may be. Timely detection is critical. If the cancer is discovered early (Stage I or II), surgery is usually the answer…and generally, surgery is safe during any trimester of your pregnancy. Radiation therapy, commonly used in later stages, makes protecting the baby very difficult. As unsettling as it may be to even think about the combination of the ‘C’ word and pregnancy, women need to be alert to the possibility and act on anything suspicious.