Last updated on Feb 17th, 2021 at 03:03 pm

About 10-20% of women worldwide under 40 years will get breast cancer either during or within one year of falling pregnant. “While breast cancer is the second most common cancer in women of childbearing age, there is hardly ever a need to terminate a pregnancy because of the disease,” says Dr Rayne of the Netcare Breast Care Centre.

With more women choosing to start a family at a later stage, it’s worth educating yourself on the signs and symptoms of breast cancer, as it’s often missed and only found when it has already progressed to a late stage.

Signs of breast cancer

  • It can be more difficult to diagnose breast cancer in pregnant women as the breast changes so much during pregnancy and when breastfeeding that it’s difficult to know what’s normal and what’s not.
  • You should still examine your breasts regularly, and if there are any differences that concern you, ask your doctor or breast specialist to examine you.
  • The most common sign of breast cancer in pregnant or breastfeeding women is a growing lump, which is not painful, although the swollen surrounding breast tissue can make it feel sore.
  • Another sign is a hot swollen breast.

You should mention any signs of abnormal swelling or lumps to your gynaecologist as soon as possible.

Treating breast cancer during pregnancy

You can be treated for breast cancer when you’re expecting without having to terminate your pregnancy. Dr Rayne says there’s no reason why you can’t receive treatment to ensure the best outcome and survival for both you and your baby.
“Surgery to remove either one or both of the breasts can be done during any trimester of the pregnancy with careful planning and coordination between your obstetrician and breast surgeon. Breast-saving surgery can often also be done if that’s what you want,” says Dr Rayne.

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Breastfeeding after diagnosis and treatment

  • Breastfeeding after a double mastectomy isn’t possible, but you can still breastfeed if you only had a single mastectomy.
  • Start preparing yourself to breastfeed while you’re still pregnant. As soon as you notice milk coming out of your good breast, start expressing. Pumping will stimulate growth areas that may have been compromised during surgery and can build your confidence. This will also help to establish a good breastfeeding and expressing routine for when your baby arrives.

Tips for successful expressing

  • Wash your hands thoroughly before expressing.
  • Express milk in a familiar and comfortable setting without any distractions.
  • Choose a time when you won’t be rushed or interrupted.
  • Find a warm spot with a comfortable chair. A relaxed atmosphere will help the milk flow.
  • Apply heat (a warm cloth or warm water bag) to your breast and then gently massage your breast. The warmth will encourage the milk to flow.

Being diagnosed with breast cancer can come as a shock, but rest assured that you can be treated without harming your baby, and breastfeeding is still possible if you had a single mastectomy.

Breast pumps to make expressing easier

The Philips AVENT Manual Breast Pump, R900


The Philips AVENT Single Electronic Breast Pump, R2550