General Information about Breast Cancer and Pregnancy
Breast cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells
form in the tissues of the breast.
The breast is made up of lobes and ducts. Each breast has 15 to 20 sections called
lobes, which have many smaller sections called lobules. The lobes and lobules are connected by
thin tubes called ducts.
| Anatomy of the breast, showing lymph nodes and lymph vessels.|
Each breast also contains blood
vessels and lymph
vessels. The lymph vessels carry an almost colorless fluid called lymph. The
lymph vessels lead to small, bean-shaped organs called lymph nodes that help the body fight infection and disease. Lymph nodes are found throughout the body. Clusters of
lymph nodes are found near the breast in the axilla (under the arm), above the collarbone, and
in the chest.
Breast cancer is sometimes detected (found) in women who are
pregnant or have just given birth.
In women who are pregnant or who have just given birth, breast cancer occurs most often between the
ages of 32 and 38. Breast cancer occurs about once in every 3,000 pregnancies.
It may be difficult to detect (find) breast cancer early in
pregnant or nursing women, whose breasts are often tender and swollen.
Women who are pregnant, nursing, or have just given birth usually
have tender, swollen breasts. This can make small lumps difficult to detect and
may lead to delays in diagnosing breast cancer. Because of these
delays, cancers are often found at a later stage in these women.
Breast examination should be part of prenatal and postnatal care.
To detect breast cancer, pregnant and nursing women should examine
their breasts themselves. Women should also receive clinical breast
examinations during their routine prenatal and postnatal examinations.
Tests that examine the breasts are used to detect (find) and diagnose
If an abnormality is found, one or all of the following tests may
- Ultrasound exam: A procedure in which high-energy sound waves (ultrasound) are bounced off internal tissues or organs and make echoes. The echoes form a picture of body tissues called a sonogram.
- Mammogram: An x-ray of the breast. A mammogram can be performed with little
risk to the fetus. Mammograms in
pregnant women may appear negative even though cancer is present.
| Mammography of the right breast.|
- Biopsy: The removal of cells or tissues by a pathologist so they can be viewed under a microscope to check for signs of cancer.
Certain factors affect prognosis
(chance of recovery) and treatment options.
The prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options depend on the following:
- The stage
of the cancer (whether it is in the breast only or has spread to other places in the body).
- The size of
- The type of breast cancer.
- The age of the fetus.
- Whether there
- The patient’s
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