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Pregnancy and Breast Cancer

By: Beth Morrisey MLIS - Updated: 18 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
Pregnancy Breast Cancer Cancer

Pregnancy and breast cancer are linked in a few ways. Women who become pregnant often have a decreased risk of breast cancer throughout their life, yet breast cancer is one of the most common cancers developed and/or diagnosed in pregnant women. Women who have successfully battled breast cancer can still have successful pregnancies, though some doctors advise waiting a few years in the hopes that pregnancy will not trigger a recurrence. Women who have questions about breast cancer and pregnancy should not hesitate to speak with their health care providers and continue their discussions until all of their questions have been answered.

Pregnancy and Breast Cancer Risk

During pregnancy a woman’s hormone levels change and these changes can be related to breast cancer risk. In general, pregnancy creates hormone changes that help protect against breast cancer. For example it is known that the younger a woman has her first child the less likely she will be to develop breast cancer. It is also know that having more than one baby is connected to a lower risk of breast cancer. After childbirth it is also know that breastfeeding helps to lower the risk of breast cancer. However, most of these relationships are throughout a woman’s lifetime. For a few years after childbirth it is thought that a woman’s risk of breast cancer actually increases before it decreases again. The ways in which pregnancy helps to lower the risks of breast cancer are still being studied, and it is hoped that once these scenarios are understood then treatments can be developed to help mimic these natural effects.

Breast Cancer During Pregnancy

Women can develop or be diagnosed with breast cancer while pregnant, and in fact breast cancer is one of the most common cancers fought by pregnancy women. It is thought that this is because breast cancer is present in the woman before pregnancy, but her specific hormonal changes somehow trigger the cancer and speed up its growth or spread. This, combined with the fact that breast changes associated with pregnancy may make detection harder, means that breast cancer might develop before a woman even realises it and a chance of early detection is diminished. To avoid this unfortunate event, women should take care to check their breast regularly both before and during pregnancy. Women should also make sure that their health care providers perform breast checks during pregnancy and then anything suspicious is diagnosed by mammogram, ultrasound or biopsy immediately.

Pregnancy and Breast Cancer Treatments

Having breast cancer while pregnant does not necessarily harm a woman’s baby, but there are breast cancer treatments that may. Knowing that a woman is pregnant will help doctors choose the best treatment for both mother and baby. Surgical options such as a lumpectomy or mastectomy is often advised to pregnant women with early stages of breast cancer. If chemotherapy is needed after surgery, many women wait until after the first trimester in order to minimise any risks. In more advanced cases of breast cancer it can be hard to minimise the risks of treatments such as radiotherapy. Unfortunately in some advanced cases, mothers, their families and their doctors must weigh up the good a treatment will due for a mother against the harm it might do to her child to decide if they will even proceed with potential treatments.

There are several links between breast cancer and pregnancy, but each woman’s experience of pregnancy, and breast cancer, will be unique. Though some generalities will be made, there are many more factors related to breast cancer than just pregnancy. Women interested in learning more about pregnancy and breast cancer should speak to a medical professional to discuss their unique circumstances.

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