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The Cleveland Clinic

Breast Cancer: Breast Cancer During Pregnancy


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.

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