While the development of breast cancer during pregnancy is quite rare — occurring only in about one in 3,000 pregnancies — it is the most common type of cancer affecting women who are pregnant. During pregnancy, breast cancer is referred to as gestational breast cancer or pregnancy-associated breast cancer.
Since the breast undergoes natural changes in size, shape, and sensitivity during pregnancy, it can be challenging for doctors to detect cancer during routine checkups and obstetrician visits. To combat this difficulty, doctors at Dignity Health’s Chandler Regional Medical Center and St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center collaborate with researchers from the Dignity Health – Cancer Institute at St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center to provide women with comprehensive care, including diagnostic imaging and treatment. To learn more about breast cancer during pregnancy in Arizona, Find a Doctor today.
Breast Cancer Symptoms During Pregnancy
The primary symptom of breast cancer is a lump or mass. Other symptoms may include:
- Nipple discharge
- Changes on the breast or nipple
- Swelling of part or all of the breast
- An inverted nipple
- A change in size, appearance, or shape of the breast or nipple
Because of natural changes during pregnancy, it’s not uncommon for women to miss the symptoms of breast cancer. Visit a Dignity Health doctor if you are trying to get pregnant to discuss how you can better detect any breast changes.
Breast Cancer Causes During Pregnancy
Researchers don’t yet fully understand what causes breast cancer to develop. They do know that pregnancy is not a cause. Risk factors for breast cancer include being a woman and increased age. You are more likely to develop breast cancer if you have a family history of the disease, certain gene mutations (BRCA1 or BRCA2), or a history of radiation therapy to the chest.
Breast Cancer Treatment During Pregnancy at Dignity Health
To protect a baby in the womb against radiation, doctors generally do not recommend screening mammograms for pregnant women. At Dignity Health, our board-certified medical and radiation oncologists, surgeons, and cancer care specialists focus treatments based around the type and stage of breast cancer, how far along you are in pregnancy, and your personal preferences.
Surgery to remove cancerous breast tissue is the main breast cancer treatment during pregnancy. Most often this involves a mastectomy because surgeries that conserve the breast require radiation therapy afterward. Also, most chemotherapy drugs are safe to use for women who are in their second trimester, and up until 35 weeks of pregnancy.
Radiation, hormone therapy, and targeted therapy are not recommended during pregnancy. Oncologists at Dignity Health focus on detecting the symptoms of breast cancer during pregnancy in Arizona in order to provide the most effective cancer care for women of all ages.