Breast tissue grows and changes during pregnancy. Although finding a lump may seem like a cause for alarm, most lumps found during this time are normal and benign (noncancerous). Talking to your health care provider and following up with recommended tests can help give you peace of mind if you feel a lump.
Around 1 in every 3,000 people develops breast cancer during pregnancy — most often, women between the ages of 32 and 38. In the rare case that breast cancer is the cause of breast lumps, knowing sooner rather than later will allow you to move forward with essential treatment.
Starting in the early stages of pregnancy, elevated hormone levels boost circulation to the breasts and may cause swelling. Breasts can start to feel lumpy and usually increase by one to two cup sizes. Some people also develop tiny bumps on their areolas called Montgomery’s tubercles. These are sebaceous glands that make oil and lubricate the nipple and aren’t anything to worry about.
It’s also common to develop clogged milk ducts as the breasts prepare for breastfeeding. These hard lumps may feel tender but aren’t a sign of breast cancer.
People may develop other benign breast conditions during pregnancy, including lumps called fibroadenomas and lactating adenomas. Various types of cysts and infections may also lead to lumps. While some lumps benefit from treatment right away, many breast abnormalities in pregnancy resolve on their own after childbirth.
Imaging tests, often starting with ultrasounds, can help determine the cause of breast lumps. If there’s still some uncertainty or concern, a mammogram may be recommended. Mammography is considered safe during pregnancy because the radiation dose is very low.
In other cases, a breast biopsy can provide additional information for a proper diagnosis. A biopsy entails removing a tissue or fluid sample for study under a microscope.
If you have a breast infection, antibiotics can help treat it safely during pregnancy to prevent further complications.
Despite the low risk of breast cancer during pregnancy, it’s still a possibility. Finding breast cancer early is crucial.
Many forms of chemotherapy can be started during pregnancy when the benefits outweigh the risks. Chemo is usually recommended after the first trimester of pregnancy and isn’t associated with harmful effects on the fetus. Sometimes, pregnant people undergoing chemotherapy deliver early or have a baby with a low birth weight. Radiation and hormone treatments are generally postponed until after the baby is born.
The National Cancer Institute notes that terminating pregnancy doesn’t improve breast cancer outcomes for pregnant women.
You should always address concerns about breast changes with your doctor. Since breast lumps are common in pregnancy, you may be advised to try at-home remedies first and wait to see if anything changes. For blocked milk ducts, a warm shower and massage may help clear the duct within a few days. Other issues take longer to resolve and may not go away until you get treatment or give birth.
Nonetheless, it’s important to make sure your concerns are heard, and that there aren’t any unnecessary delays in confirming the cause of your breast lumps. Even if breast cancer is identified during pregnancy, there are options that can give you and your baby the best chances of remaining healthy and safe.
MyBCTeam is the social network for people with breast cancer and their loved ones. On MyBCTeam, more than 65,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with breast cancer.
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