Breast cancer during pregnancy is rare, occurring in only about one in 3,000 pregnant women. It is also called pregnancy-associated breast cancer or gestational breast cancer. During pregnancy, your breasts undergo normal changes in sensitivity, size, and texture. This can make it harder to detect breast cancer. Because of this, breast cancer found during pregnancy tends to be more advanced at the time of diagnosis.
Dignity Health oncologists are experts in the personalized treatment of breast cancer, including breast cancer during pregnancy, in the Bay Area. Our cancer care teams are dedicated to creating more effective treatment plans while providing care with humankindness. Use our online tool to Find a Doctor who is experienced in treating both breast cancer and high-risk pregnancies.
Gestational Breast Cancer Symptoms
A mass or lump is the most common sign of breast cancer. Other signs include a change in the size, shape, or appearance of the breast or nipple, swelling of part or all of the breast, nipple discharge, inverted nipple, and skin changes on the breast or nipple. Many of these signs occur normally during pregnancy, so it is easy for them to be overlooked.
What Causes Breast Cancer During Pregnancy?
Doctors don’t know exactly why women get breast cancer, but pregnancy isn’t the cause. Being a woman is the number one risk factor for breast cancer. Age also plays a role. As women age, they are more likely to develop breast cancer.
Some women are more likely to have breast cancer than others. Previous radiation therapy to the chest, certain gene mutations, and a family history of breast cancer increase your risk.
Treating Breast Cancer During Pregnancy
Pregnancy makes the treatment of breast cancer more challenging. Targeted therapies, hormone therapy, and radiation therapy are not safe treatment options during pregnancy.
Your treatment options depend on how far along your pregnancy is as well as the type and stage of breast cancer. Surgical removal of the entire breast (mastectomy) is the most common treatment because breast-conserving surgery requires radiation therapy afterward, which may be harmful to the baby. Most chemotherapy drugs are safe starting in the second trimester up until the 35th week of pregnancy.
The treatment goal for breast cancer during pregnancy is the same as for nonpregnant women: complete healing. A diagnosis of breast cancer — or any condition — during pregnancy is stressful, but Dignity Health doctors can help increase the chances of a healthy outcome for both you and your little one.