Mammograms and Pregnancy
Pregnancy is filled with lists of “dos” and “don’ts.” Do take prenatal vitamins. Don’t smoke. Do schedule regular visits with your provider. Don’t drink too much caffeine.
Many of those dos and don’ts are commonly known among women, and the guidelines are relatively simple to follow. But there are times when an unexpected scenario comes up during pregnancy, and you just aren’t sure what to do.
Maybe you’re over the age of 40 and you’re due for your annual mammogram at the same time you’re pregnant. Maybe you have a family history of breast cancer and don’t want to miss your annual screening, or maybe you discovered a lump in your breast one morning while you were in the shower. Whatever the reason, the question of having a mammogram when pregnant may come up.
Of course, the best thing to do is discuss your concerns and questions with your medical provider. However, it’s also a good idea to understand what’s involved with getting a mammogram while pregnant and the best way to talk to your provider about your options.
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Should I Get a Mammogram While Pregnant?
During pregnancy, the density of breast tissue increases, making it more difficult to read the images produced in a mammogram. Although 3-D mammograms are better equipped to cut through denser breast tissue, it can still be difficult to identify a potential lump or tumor inside of the breast. Even after your baby is born, it may be difficult to get a clear image because the milk inside of your breasts can also increase breast density and prevent a clear image. If there is no reason to suspect a problem, most providers will recommend postponing your annual mammogram until after your baby is born.
If you detect a lump in your breast or you are at high risk for breast cancer, your medical provider may recommend that you undergo certain imaging to pinpoint the problem, especially if there’s a reason to suspect that breast cancer is present. Typically, if you’re pregnant, your provider will initially recommend that you get a breast ultrasound, but this may not always be enough.
If it is necessary to have a mammogram while you’re pregnant, rest assured that the amount of radiation you are exposed to will be minimal, and there’s minimal risk to your baby. Simply inform the mammography technologist that you are pregnant, and they will cover your stomach with a lead shield prior to taking any images.
Can I Get Mammograms While Breastfeeding?
The short answer to this question is yes, you can get mammograms while breastfeeding. The small amounts of radiation you’re exposed to won’t impact your milk supply in any way, and you won’t have to wait a certain amount of time before you can nurse again. In fact, you can safely breastfeed your baby as soon as your imaging is complete.
In some cases, full milk glands may increase breast density, which can make it harder to properly read an image and detect a problem. If you’re breastfeeding, it’s a good idea to nurse or pump 30 minutes prior to a mammogram to improve the quality of the images being taken. This allows the radiologist who is reading your images to get a clearer view of the breast tissue and make a more accurate diagnosis.
What Should I Do If I Find a Lump in My Breast While Pregnant?
A woman’s breasts naturally change during pregnancy. They may look different or feel different than they ever have in the past, but that doesn’t mean it’s normal to find lumps or other abnormalities in them. If you notice any suspicious changes in your breasts, notify your medical provider right away. There are a number of tests they can order to detect a lump in your breast, including breast ultrasound, MRI or mammograms.
Typically a mammogram is not the first test recommended for a pregnant woman if a lump is present because of the increase in breast density associated with pregnancy. In some cases, however, one may be recommended if it’s necessary to accurately confirm the presence of the lump.
If they do confirm the presence of a lump, your provider will perform a breast biopsy to determine if any cancerous cells are present.
A biopsy is done in the doctor’s office, and you will not have to be put to sleep. Instead, they’ll use a localized numbing agent to numb part of the breast near the lump and then insert a hollow needle into it to extract a sample of the tissue. The tissue will then be analyzed in a lab, and the results will be communicated to your medical provider.
What Happens If I Have Breast Cancer During Pregnancy?
Breast cancer occurs in one out of every 3,000 pregnant women. It’s very rare. However, if you are diagnosed with breast cancer during pregnancy, there are safe and effective treatment options available to you.
If cancer is detected, you may undergo additional tests to determine the type of cancer and the extent that it has spread. These tests will also help your medical provider determine the best course of treatment.
Surgery is one of the most common treatments for breast cancer, whether you’re pregnant or not. If you are diagnosed with breast cancer during pregnancy, it’s likely that your doctor will recommend surgery to remove the cancer. In some cases, they may recommend a mastectomy to remove the entire breast.
If the cancer hasn’t spread beyond the breast, then a mastectomy is often the only course of treatment needed.
If the cancer has spread, chemotherapy and/or radiation may be necessary as well. Radiation is not recommended for women who are pregnant, so it is typically delayed until after delivery. In some cases, chemotherapy can be safely administered in the second and third trimesters, but if it’s possible to wait until after delivery, many doctors prefer to do so. Hormone therapies are not recommended for pregnant women.
Is a Mammogram Safe During Pregnancy?
Mammograms are safe during pregnancy, but they aren’t always the most effective method for identifying breast cancer during this phase of a woman’s life. It’s important to talk with your medical provider about the benefits and risks of mammography during pregnancy, especially if you suspect a problem or have a family history of breast cancer.
At Health Images, our goal is to provide competent and compassionate imaging services for all ages and stages. If you do need a mammogram during pregnancy, our highly trained staff are committed to helping to protect you and your unborn child every step of the way.
If you need to schedule a mammogram appointment, don’t wait. Contact the Health Images location near you.