Breast Cancer During Pregnancy: What You Need to Know


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(GETTY IMAGES)
You may not recognize the name Kerryn McCann, but it's all over the news this week. McCann was an award-winning Australian runner, age 41, who died Monday from breast cancer that spread to her liver and brain. Sadly, about 1.3 million women will be diagnosed with breast cancer worldwide this year, and 465,000 women will die from it—McCann is just one of many. The twist on the story is that she discovered her breast lump while pregnant, and initially she thought it was nothing.

Breasts can do all sorts of strange things during pregnancy: They blow up, they get tender and lumpy, they squirt mysterious substances. For many women, pregnancy boobs are a downright strange experience. When I was pregnant, it was the first time I had a generous bosom, and I poked my boobs every now and then to see if they were real. What I didn't do was check them to make sure they were healthy.

Like McCann, I figured breast changes during pregnancy were normal. And they usually are. Breast cancer during pregnancy is quite rare. In the United States, just 1 in 3,000 pregnant women is diagnosed with breast cancer.

But you still need to be vigilant. That means doing routine breast self-exams and reporting anything suspicious to your doctor immediately. Breast tenderness is normal during pregnancy, but hard lumps are not. It's really important to take action quickly: The average reported delay in reporting a lump or other symptom detected during pregnancy is 5 to 15 months, a factor that may contribute to less promising outcomes.

If you and your doctor do find an abnormality, there are ways to perform diagnostic tests, such as ultrasound and mammography, without exposing the fetus to radiation. Sometimes babies are induced early (as was the case with Kerryn McCann's baby) so that the mother can start chemotherapy or another treatment as soon as possible.

There are lots of lessons to take away from Kerryn McCann: She was an inspirational athlete and mother of three and, whether you are pregnant or not, her story is a call to check your breasts—now.

Read Anne's previous posts:
How Blogging Is Good for Your Breasts
Good News: My Migraines May Be Good for My Breasts
By Anne Krueger
Last Updated: December 09, 2008

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