The joy and anticipation that comes with a new baby is unmatched! It is a one-of-a-kind, transformational experience that only women are privy to. However, this beautiful event can be tainted with the prospect of breast cancer. Postpartum breast cancer can generate questions and concerns about breastfeeding and if it can be transferred to the baby. At Breast Care Center Miami, we are familiar with breastfeeding cancer signs and are experts in treating them. In the meantime, it is best to educate yourself about postpartum breast cancer and how to address its symptoms. First, let’s start with a brief discussion on breast cancer. 

What is breast cancer?

First, some important facts about breast cancer. It is not just limited to women. Men can have breast cancer as well. However, it is important to note that 1 in every 8 women will have breast cancer in their lifetime, whereas the ratio with men is 1 in every 1000. According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, an estimated 268,000 new invasive breast cancer cases were diagnosed in women and this year, over 41,000 women will die from it. If patients are diagnosed at the localized stage, which encompasses 62% of all cases, they have a 99% chance of a 5-year survival rate. As the most common cancer amongst women, there are 3.5 million breast cancer survivors in the United States. Every two minutes, a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer in pregnancy.

Simply put, breast cancer is a disease in which cancer cells form in the breast tissue. In general, cancer forms when cell growth is out of control. These cancer cells typically form a tumor that can be seen on an X-ray or felt as a lump in the breast and can often spread. Still, non-cancerous breast tumors can also form in breast tissue as abnormal growth, but are not life-threatening and will not spread. Yet, most breast lumps are labeled as benign but can still increase the likelihood of cancer formation. Regardless of whether your lumps are benign or not, they all need to be checked by a certified breast specialist. 

What is breast cancer

Postpartum breast cancer symptoms

When you add pregnancy to the mix of breast cancer, it can get complicated with the health of the baby possibly at risk. Our bodies are constantly in transformation as we age and pregnancy is no different. Generally, bearing children and breastfeeding decreases the risk of breast cancer. However, there is a small window of time during pregnancy and postpartum when the risk of breast cancer is higher. Many women have been diagnosed while pregnant or breastfeeding but the odds are still low. 

At this point, you may be wondering why and how postpartum breast cancer can happen if the odds are so low. There are multiple factors involved but it does make sense that susceptibility to breast cancer is higher at this time. One of the reasons women may be more likely to get breast cancer is the increase in cell division as the body experiences rapid and drastic changes. Increased cell division translates to a higher likelihood of mistakes and mutations. Also, during this time, estrogen and progesterone hormone levels are through the roof and both are correlated with breast cancer. Another important reason to note is the body’s return to the pre-pregnancy stage, which is similar to how the body reacts to inflammation. Lastly, carrying a fetus can weaken a mother’s immune system thus making her more susceptible to sickness and disease. 

Now let’s closely examine the symptoms of breast cancer while breastfeeding. They are often confused with postpartum breast changes and may be overlooked by the untrained eye. Some symptoms to be aware of include: 

  • Mastitis – also known as a breast infection characterized by fever, breast tenderness, swelling, pain, skin warmth
  • Breast abscesses – may contain pus and appear as red and hot. 
  • Fibroadenomas – benign tumors that may feel like marbles to the touch and move under the skin
  • Galactoceles – harmless milk-filled cysts that are usually painless that feel smooth and round, moving under the skin
  • Nipple discharge
  • Consistent breast pain
  • Changes in size, shape, or appearance of the breast 
  • Redness or darkness of breast
  • Itchy or sore rash around the nipple
  • Swelling or warmth of the breast

Many of these symptoms can be brought on by blocked ducts or infection. When this happens, it’s normal for painful masses to develop in the breast. Since cancer is generally not painful, if a mother discovers these masses and feels no pain, there is cause for concern. Since breastfeeding mothers are touching their breasts more often than they usually do, and with increased visits to doctors, being aware of breastfeeding cancer signs during this time is advisable.

What does breast cancer after pregnancy treatment look like?

Chemotherapy and radiation are common treatments for postpartum breast cancer diagnosis. Surgery may also be needed to remove any masses but you may be able to continue breastfeeding before and after the surgery. This depends on whether you have a double mastectomy performed or not. It’s best to stay connected to the doctor during this time, as they will be able to best advise you on what breastfeeding options are available. However, if you undergo chemotherapy, you will not be able to breastfeed at all.  

What does breast cancer after pregnancy treatment look like

Request an appointment today

If you or a loved one are experiencing breast cancer while breastfeeding, know that you are not alone. Surrounding yourselves with adequate emotional support is critical at this time. Continuing to breastfeed should be done with the help and expertise of a lactation specialist. 

At the Breast Care Center Miami, we can help guide you through this process and much more. Our exceptional team of board-certified and fellowship-trained specialists and physicians provides personalized care through all stages of the breast cancer process. Through advanced breast surgical techniques, we are able to provide top quality services in breast surgical oncology, comprehensive evaluations, and genetic counseling and high-risk screening. We are part of the Topline MD Health Alliance, providing exceptional health services to all of our patients. Visit our website and request an appointment today!