Find Out How You Can Distinguish Between Normal Changes In Your Breasts And Those That Need Further Testing, As Well As Treatment Options For Breast Cancer During Pregnancy.
Bringing a baby into the world, you need to pay attention to your body's changes so that you know if something isn't going as planned. That includes your breast health. Being pregnant doesn't stop the chances of breast cancer occurring and with the new life you are creating, you will want to pay special attention to ensure that you will be there for your child's life.
In 2004, Stephanie Teddy Garner was a beautiful, vibrant new mom and a devoted wife to a surgeon. But what the healthy woman and RN didn't know was that she had breast cancer. Sister-in-law Michelle Garner said that Stephanie "ignored the symptoms [of breast cancer] and wrote them off as 'just being tired from the baby' or having lumpy breasts."
But when her daughter was just five-months-old, Stephanie was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer that had spread to both breasts, her lymph nodes, liver and spine. She battled the disease for seven months, before passing away in May 2005. "Lest you think she is someone who is either unaware or unhealthy--she was a RN married to a surgeon, never smoked, drank little and worked out regularly," Michelle said.
Stephanie's tragic story underscores the importance and necessity of paying attention to your breast health during pregnancy, breastfeeding and beyond. "No more moms having to say goodbye to 1-year-old babies. No more little girls growing up without moms. That's what I hope sharing Stephanie's story will achieve," said Michelle Garner.
Here's what you need to know.
On home breast exams
Hormones during pregnancy cause breasts to change in size, shape and consistency. If you are a woman who has routinely performed self-exams in the past, then you will notice the changes during your exams. This is not a cause to stop or worry necessarily, but you should know that you might feel some lumpiness that you aren't accustomed to. Mary Ann Shostek of the Center for True Harmony Wellness and Medicine in Mesa, Arizona, says that some changes and sensitivity is normal during pregnancy. "However, significant pain, suspicious lumps, dimpling of the skin, or changes in skin texture should be reported," Shostek said.
But it's also important not to panic if you do feel changes. "Finding a lump is not a certain cause for panic as most of these lumps are benign. Having frequent office visits with her OB/GYN is a woman's best first course of action. Review changes in the breasts and get guidelines for what might be developing. Hard non-painful lumps have a higher likelihood of being problematic. These require more urgent evaluation," says John Di Saia MD, a Board-certified Plastic Surgeon. Di Saia noted that "the National Cancer Institute no longer recommends women perform breast self examination. ... Part of their reasoning has to do with the fact that most of the 'lumps and bumps' women find are not cancer and it is not always easy to tell the difference."
Still, many doctors continue to recommend regular self-exams. Talk to your doctor to find out her recommendations specific to your situation.
How to check your breasts
Your breasts will feel different than you are accustomed to, but it's important to look for anything that is extremely different. "Breasts change a LOT during pregnancy, and it is important to know when to be concerned and when to just be amazed at this new set of bodily changes you are experiencing," said Dr. Ellen Mahoney, a contributor to BeWell.com and an LLuminari expert. "Washing the breasts with the flats of a soapy hand, or doing a light self-massage is the recommendation these days, to get to know your own texture. If something leaps into your hand that is ENTIRELY unlike anything else you can feel anywhere else in either breast then it should come to medical attention. Usually it will turn out to be fine, but it should be checked out."
What if you find something?
First, take a few breaths and check your breasts again. Mahoney said that pregnancy/hormone-related changes will be felt in both breasts. If something is found in only one breast, then it's important to seek medical attention. "A lump that needs to come to medical attention is not subtle! Your first reaction will be 'What's this?!' as you realize that you have never felt anything like it ever before. Then you should make a search for anything like it now in either breast. If you don't find anything except the one new lump, then it is time to call the doctor to make an appointment. Then, while you are waiting for your appointment day, leave the lump alone so that you don't irritate the tissue," Mahoney said.
You will likely be examined by your doctor at your appointment, and may have further testing, such as an ultrasound.
The C word
If you've done all of the above and the lump has been determined to be cancerous, then doctors will want to begin treatment as soon as possible to give you the best possible outcome. "Over time we have learned what treatments can be given in pregnancy, and which should wait until after the baby is delivered. The details depend on how far along the pregnancy is, but basically we can use most treatment options except for radiation without harming the baby," said Mahoney.
Stories like Stephanie's are tragic reminders of the importance of conducting regular self-exams on your breasts. Cancer is a disease that can spread very rapidly, but with regular self-exams and early detection, it can be stopped. Thanks to Stephanie's family for sharing her story, so that other women can be inspired to act.
Amen to that.