Breast cancer is the most common cancer in pregnant women and tends to affect women in their mid-30s. Although pregnancy doesn't cause breast cancer, the hormonal changes in the body during pregnancy can accelerate its growth.The disease can be devastating to both the mother and child, so it is essential that pregnant women and their health care providers continue to perform routine breast exams throughout pregnancy. Any suspicious lumps and symptoms should be evaluated.
Because many changes take place in a woman's breasts during pregnancy, it can be more difficult to identify small masses, or lumps, during pregnancy. Breast masses can be mistaken for a normal change due to pregnancy. 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.
Elyse Caplan remembers it well, that first conversation with her oncologist. She had just been diagnosed with stage IIB breast cancer, and they were discussing the game plan for treatment. If her oncologist mentioned "recurrence" -- the possibility that her cancer could return -- it was lost on her, she says.
"You sit through an hour-long appointment and take notes, but when the doctor says one thing that's very upsetting, you just freeze," she tells WebMD. "You're thinking, 'I'm going to lose my...
The best thing you can do while pregnant is to see your health care provider 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 health care provider will perform a breast exam to check for suspicious breast changes.
It is also important for you to regularly perform self breast exams at home. Your doctor or nurse can teach you how to do this properly.
If a suspicious lump is found, your doctor should perform a biopsy. A mammogram may not be as helpful because of the increased density of the breasts due to pregnancy. A mammogram is usually 80% accurate, although adding a three-dimensional mammogram to a traditional digital screening may increase those odds. An ultrasound might be done as well to assess the extent of disease and guide the biopsy.
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.