If you’re breastfeeding a baby, you may be concerned about the health of your breasts. Some women wonder if they can develop breast cancer while lactating. Although rare, it’s a possibility.
Read on to learn how to spot breast cancer while you’re breastfeeding and what treatments are available.
Mastitis is an infection of the breast tissue caused by bacteria or a blocked milk duct. You may have symptoms such as:
- breast tenderness
- skin redness
- skin warmth
If mastitis isn’t treated, a painful abscess containing pus can develop. This mass might appear as a swollen lump that’s red and hot.
Fibroadenomas are benign (noncancerous) tumors that can develop in the breast. They may feel like marbles when you touch them. They usually move under the skin and aren’t tender.
These harmless milk-filled cysts are typically painless. In general, noncancerous lumps feel smooth and round and move within the breast. Cancerous lumps are usually hard and irregular in shape and they don’t move.
- nipple discharge
- breast pain that doesn’t go away
- change in size, shape, or look of the breast
- redness or darkening of the breast
- itchy or sore rash on the nipple
- swelling or warmth of the breast
- doesn’t go away after about a week
- comes back in the same place after treatment for a blocked duct
- keeps growing
- doesn’t move
- is firm or hard
- causes dimpling of the skin, also known as peau d’orange
Lactation can cause changes in your breasts, which may make noticing symptoms of cancer tricky. It’s a good idea to see your doctor if you notice any unusual changes in your breasts.
Surgery and breastfeeding
You may be able to continue breastfeeding before and after having surgery to remove your tumor depending on the type of procedure. Talk to your doctor about whether it’s safe for you and your baby to continue breastfeeding. If you have a double mastectomy, you won’t be able to breastfeed. Treating a breast with radiation after a lumpectomy means it usually produces little or no milk. You may be able to breastfeed with the untreated breast, however. Ask your doctor what medications you’ll receive before and after surgery and if they’re safe for a baby who’s breastfed. You might need to pump your milk and discard it for a period of time before resuming breastfeeding.
Chemotherapy and breastfeeding
If you need chemotherapy, you’ll have to stop breastfeeding your baby. The powerful drugs used in chemotherapy can affect how cells divide in the body.
Radiation therapy and breastfeeding
You might be able to continue breastfeeding while receiving radiation therapy. It depends on the type of radiation you have. Some women can breastfeed with the unaffected breast only.
Treatment side effects
It’s important to remember that you could experience side effects from treatment. These might include:
- weight loss
You may want to request help with childcare so you have time to rest and recover.