Though the diagnosis of breast cancer during pregnancy is rare, the increasing number of ladies opting to conceive at a later stage in their lives is increasing the risk of this threatening condition in aging mothers-to-be.
Experts and gynecologists are now concerned about the rising incidence of breast cancer with one in 10000 pregnant ladies being diagnosed for the same.
Generally found during the first few months of delivering the child or while breastfeeding the new born, the association between pregnancy and breast cancer is becoming more stronger and is being referred to as PABC (pregnancy-associated breast cancer ) or gestational cancer.
Risks Of Breast Cancer During Pregnancy
Abnormal Growth Of Cells
In younger women, the natural lifecycle of the birth, maturity and degeneration of the body cells takes place in a regular and organized fashion. As the body ages, this normal process of cell development and growth is restricted only to the replacement of the injured or dying cells.
The presence of high estrogen levels during pregnancy, may lead to the production of abnormal cells in these women. The cancerous cells are different from these normal cells as they keep growing and spreading in the body.
Certain hormones such as estrogen aid their growth. This unnatural presence of abnormal cells in the breast and other adjoining areas during or soon after pregnancy, leads to the diagnosis of breast cancer.
Longer exposure of the body cells to hormones such as estrogen and progesterone also aids the growth and spread of cancerous cells in the breast. Women who become pregnant at a later stage in their life are exposed to higher numbers of menstrual cycles.
There exists a direct relation between the number of menstrual cycles faced by women in her lifetime and the risk for being diagnosed for cancer. Women, who start their cycles early in life and begin their menopause late, are liable to be diagnosed for breast cancer.
Pregnancy In Late Life
Pregnant women do not have periods and the hormonal balance in their body also changes during the various stages of pregnancy. Younger women are less exposed to the cancerous effects of estrogen in comparison to their older counterparts.
The levels of progesterone during pregnancy fluctuates to a greater extent than the levels of estrogen and this makes the older women more prone to breast cancer- as they await their newborns much later in life.
The role of breastfeeding in the diagnosis of breast cancer needs more evidence. Experts opine that those ladies who prefer to breastfeed their newborn are at a reduced risk of breast cancer.
This may be linked to the reduction in the number of periods in women who breastfeed for a period of 15-24 months.
Diagnosis Of Breast Cancer In Pregnant Women
As the breasts of a pregnant women tend to be become firmer, tighter and bigger during pregnancy, it becomes difficult to diagnose the signs and symptoms of breast cancer at an earlier stage.
In comparison, women who are not pregnant or not breastfeeding their infants, find it easy to feel lumps or knots in their breasts and consult their doctors accordingly. This leads to a late diagnosis of breast cancer which often spreads to the lymph nodes and other parts of the breast in pregnant women.
Difficulty In Reading Mammograms
The tissues in the breasts and their linings become dense and deep during pregnancy. This makes it difficult for doctors to read the mammograms correctly and diagnose breast cancer in its earlier stages. The symptoms of early stages of breast cancer are often confused for those that arise naturally in the first few weeks of pregnancy.
This also influences certain experts to delay the routine screening and mammogram for breast cancer. With a phenomenal rise in the number of pregnant ladies suffering from breast cancer, it is becoming crucial to differentiate the symptoms thoroughly and take preventive and treatment measures well in time.
To prevent any form of radiation from reaching the womb and harming the yet to be born baby, experts put a lead shield on the abdomen and areas below the breasts while conducting the procedures of a mammogram. Any changes in the breasts or arousal of symptoms unrelated to pregnancy should not be neglected-especially if the pregnant patient is above 40 years of age.
Breast Biopsy During Pregnancy
Any abnormal reading in the imaging of the mammogram or the formation of a new lump in the breast influences the doctor to prescribe a biopsy. A piece of tissue is usually taken out from the breast of the pregnant after numbing the area under concern.
The process is performed under the effect of general anesthesia and may cause a slight risk to the fetal growth. If a pregnant lady is diagnosed for breast cancer, then she has to undergo several processes of staging and treatment. Timely and expert medical intervention helps in the controlling the cancerous growth and protecting the child from any potential harm.