Breast Cancer: Signs, Screening Tests, and Treatments during Pregnancy

Although it doesn’t happen often, some pregnant women get to be diagnosed with breast cancer. Getting pregnant doesn’t cause the disease, but the hormonal changes brought by pregnancy can make the cancer cells grow faster. Your breast thickens as your pregnancy phase progresses, and that’s what makes detecting small lumps difficult to do. Because of this, the tumours are already larger and more advanced by the time they’re noticed. Luckily, this can now be prevented. Here, we’ve listed down the breast cancer signs, screening tests, as well as the breast cancer treatments that you can have even while you’re pregnant.

Breast Cancer Signs during Pregnancy

Breast cancers that are diagnosed before or shortly after pregnancy appear as painless breast lumps. Still, most of the lumps found during pregnancy aren’t cancer. However, it’d still be a wise move to bring any suspicious lumps into your doctor’s attention and undergo the proper breast cancer screening tests to find out whether or not the lump is a cancerous one. Don’t wait until you’ve delivered or stopped breastfeeding to get the lumps checked out.

Breast Cancer Diagnosis in Pregnant Women

Cancers in pregnant women are often found during a clinical breast cancer screening in Singapore that’s part of their prenatal care routine. Pregnant women who are under 40 usually don’t undergo screening mammography since the radiation emitted by the machine may harm the foetus.

When lumps are found during the first trimester of the pregnancy, tests like breast ultrasound are done to check the lump for breast cancer. Once the first trimester is over, she may already undergo a diagnostic mammogram test but with a shield covering her abdomen to protect the baby.

Breast Cancer Screening Tests during Pregnancy

1. Mammograms. Using mammogram tests during pregnancy is often considered for women with symptoms or signs of a possible breast problem. According to Singapore radiologists, only a small amount of radiation is needed for a mammogram test and that small radiation amount is focused on the breast, so it won’t likely reach other parts of the body. For an added protection, pregnant women can place a lead shield on their belly during the test to protect their baby from any potential radiation scatter.

2. Ultrasound. Most doctors consider ultrasound as a safe tool to use for ‘seeing’ inside the breasts of pregnant women. An ultrasound test is usually done before a mammography to assess a palpable lump. In both non-pregnant and pregnant women, an ultrasound test can accurately tell if a particular lump is a harmless cyst that’s filled with fluid or if it’s a cancerous solid mass. However, the test is much less accurate at distinguishing between an ordinary solid lump and a breast cancer lump.

3. MRI. The safety of using Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) during pregnancy hasn’t been fully established, but some studies show that the test causes no problems on pregnant women. MRI is often used to check on potentially cancerous breast lumps on pregnant women. But to be safe, consult your physician first as to whether or not this type of screening test is safe for you and your child.

4. Biopsy. For doctors to diagnose breast cancer with certainty among women, they need to remove a small portion of the suspicious lump; this procedure is known as biopsy. Such tissue can be removed using a needle (core or needle biopsy), or through a surgical removal of the whole lump (excisional biopsy). Singapore doctors usually use medicines to numb the area to be biopsied – putting a little risk to the baby – but the procedure can also be done under general anaesthesia to lessen the risk on the foetus.

Breast Cancer Treatment for Pregnant Women

There are special treatment concerns for pregnant women with cancer. Although the disease itself doesn’t seem affect the foetus, certain treatments prove to be harmful to the baby. This is the very reason why it’s crucial to create a treatment plan that will specifically treat breast cancer while protecting the foetus. The following are some of the safest treatment options that you can have during your pregnancy phase.

1. Surgery. Breast cancer surgery is known as one of the safest ways to treat breast cancer during pregnancy. Although the anaesthesia used during the surgery often crosses the placenta to the foetus, it doesn’t appear to cause any serious pregnancy complications or birth defects. However, undergoing a breast reconstruction after the surgery should be delayed until after the baby is delivered to avoid chances of blood loss or further use of anaesthesia.

2. Mastectomy. This procedure is usually endorsed for pregnant women who are in their first trimester, and still wants to continue their pregnancy. Women who are already in their second or third trimester may consider undergoing a breast conserving surgery or lumpectomy. However, radiation therapy is needed for this procedure and using too much radiation can be harmful to the foetus. Pregnant women who choose to undergo lumpectomy usually wait and have the radiation therapy after the baby is delivered.

3. Chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is not an advisable to have during the first trimester, since this is the time when chances of miscarriage and drug-related birth defects are greatest. During the second and third trimesters, some chemo drugs can already be used. However, the procedure should not be done after week 35 of pregnancy or before the planned delivery date since the patient will need enough time to recover from chemo before delivering the baby.

Being diagnosed with breast cancer can be really scary for both pregnant and non-pregnant women. So make sure that you live a healthy lifestyle and undergo all the necessary breast cancer screening Singapore tests to protect yourself from the said disease.

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