Breast cancer during pregnancy can be aggressive; watch out for these symptoms | Health

Pregnancy-associated breast cancer (PABC) is defined as breast cancer diagnosed during pregnancy or in the postpartum period. Such kind of breast cancer tends to be more aggressive as it is often diagnosed in later stages considering the changes in breast or lumps might be ignored during this time. Breast cancer affects approximately 1 in 3000 pregnant women and is the second most common malignancy affecting pregnancy. Women aged 32 to 38 years are most affected by it. (Also read: Chhavi Mittal on being diagnosed for breast cancer: Cried a lot; had traumatic nights before biopsy)

According to studies, most women with pregnancy-associated breast cancer report a painless mass in the breast or thickening of the skin of the breast. Delays in the diagnosis may be due to pregnancy-induced breast changes, such as engorgement (swelling) that often make it difficult to discern a concerning breast mass from a normal breast in a pregnant woman.

Signs of pregnancy-associated breast cancer

“Pregnancy-related breast tumours tend to be larger and of a higher stage than those in non-pregnant women. The signs are presence of hard painless breast lump, bloody discharge through nipple or nipple inversion, skin changes like thickening or orange peel appearance, lumps in axilla, asymmetry in both breast sizes,” says Dr. Reshma Puranik, Consultant Medical Oncologist -Surya Women & Child Super Speciality Hospital- Wakad Pune.

Can pregnancy increase risk of getting breast cancer?

Women who become pregnant later in life have an increased risk of breast cancer. In the Nurses’ Health Study, compared with nulliparous women or women who have no child, at or near menopause, the cumulative incidence of breast cancer (up to age 70) was 20 per cent lower among women who delivered their first child at age 20; 10 per cent lower for those delivering their first child at age 25 years; and 5 per cent higher among those delivering their first child at 35 years. The risk for a nulliparous woman of any age was similar to that of a woman with a first full-term birth at age 35.

Avoiding the risk

According to Dr Puranik, first pregnancy below the age of 35 years can help avoid this cancer. “The other factors that help avoid breast cancer are a low-fat dietary pattern, which includes increase in fruits, vegetables, and grains, regular, moderate physical activity and maintaining healthy weight may provide modest protection against breast cancer and avoiding smoking and alcohol can also reduce chances of getting breast cancer,” says the oncologist.

How to detect it early

“Women in pregnancy or breast-feeding period should not ignore any lump in their breasts. Self breast examination in pregnancy and lactation period should be practiced. In case any lump is detected, they should urgently consult an oncologist and get further investigations done like sonography and if needed a biopsy,” says Dr Reshma Puranik.

Precaution to avoid pregnancy-associated breast cancer:

* Do not ignore any breast lump

* Consult doctor immediately in case of any symptoms related to cancer

* Breast feeding should be done for one year at least.

* Maintaining healthy weight during pregnancy.

* Eating fresh vegetable, fruits and whole grains

* Avoiding smoking and alcohol

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