Pregnancy can delay the diagnosis of breast cancer increasing the likelihood of its spread to other areas. In breast cancer, early detection and treatment has a significant part in successful recovery from the illness. However, the various bodily changes occurring during pregnancy can make it difficult for the doctor to identify the cancer (like a lump which could have otherwise been detected relatively easily in a non-pregnant woman).
Nonetheless, screening and assessment of breast cancer should not be sidelined and ignored when advised by your doctor. Instead of leaving a breast change under suspicion, it is better to get it examined through appropriate method(s). Some considerations and precautionary tools may help ease screening and avoid undue harm.
Exposure When Screening For Breast Cancer
Mammograms can help detect breast cancer early. But during pregnancy, it can become difficult to identify cancer owing to the dense breast tissues. Mammogram is supposed to be safe during pregnancy but you should consult your doctor before performing the screening test. During the screening, radiation is focused so that it concentrates on the breast area only. You may also be given a protective lead shield to avoid exposure to the womb.
In some cases, mammogram may be even postponed. Even though the amount of exposure to radiation during a mammogram is not big, there is uncertainty over the effect of exposure on the unborn child. So if your doctor does not recommend it, better wait for sometime (may be until childbirth and breastfeeding).
A doubtful breast change should be biopsied. Even if you are pregnant, breast exams and screenings should not be undermined. Women aged 40 or above should be particularly careful of changes in their breasts. A biopsy can identify if a breast change is cancerous.
During a biopsy, local or general anesthesia can be implemented depending upon the need of individual. The doctor can either numb a part of the breast for biopsy or put the patient to deep sleep. This is not likely to put risk to the growing fetus.
Staging is an important part of screening for breast cancer. Through staging, it is found out whether the cancer cells are limited to the breast or spread to other body parts.
Since pregnancy can delay diagnosis of cancer, resulting into its progression, staging tests can be extremely helpful. Several tests can be done to stage a cancer but all may not be needed in one case.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan can also be integral to breast cancer diagnosis and screening. MRI scan done without the contrast material is generally considered safe. However, the contrast material which is sometimes used in MRI can reach the fetus and may cause harm.
MRI may serve good in early pregnancy rather than later pregnancy and its effects as heating and probable toxicity can pose safety concerns. According to the European Society of Radiology, a gadolinium-based contrast may possibly be safe during pregnancy.
Ultrasound and chest x-ray are also supposedly safe during pregnancy when the belly is protected and the radiation is small. However, they should not essentially be made part of the screening during pregnancy.