In 2020, breast cancer became the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the population and, in turn, the leading cause of death in women, according to the World Health Organisation.
Thanks to medical advances and early detection, mortality figures have been falling, allowing for more encouraging cure rates.
When a patient is diagnosed, a lot of questions start to arise, which are quite normal: is there a cure?, what will happen to me after undergoing chemotherapy?, will I be able to become a mother after I overcome cancer?
In this post our fertility experts will explain how breast cancer treatments affect the reproductive system and what alternatives Assisted Reproduction offers to become a mother when a woman suffers or has suffered from breast cancer.
Breast cancer symptoms
Breast cancer, also known as adenocarcinoma, is the growth of cells in the mammary gland, which is usually manifested by the appearance of a lump in the breast or armpit area.
Unlike other cancers that also affect women, breast cancer is not infectious or transmissible like HPV or cervical cancer.
Early detection and regular self-examinations are essential to have a better chance of being cured of cancer.
The most common symptoms of breast cancer include:
– Breast or armpit lumps
– Changes in breast size or shape
– Breast skin changes
– Unusual nipple discharge
Most common types of breast cancer
There are different types of breast cancer, each with its own treatment, but it is very important to bear in mind that the type of cancer will be determined by the type of cells affected.
Additionally, it must be differentiated by its extension in the body. We speak of in situ cancer when the cancer is only found in a milk duct and has not spread to the rest of the breast tissue. On the other hand, we speak of invasive cancer when the cancer has invaded the surrounding breast tissue.
According to the American Cancer Society, some of the most common types of breast cancer are:
1- Ductal carcinoma in situ
- Occurs in the milk ducts
- With early detection it can be treated successfully
- This type of carcinoma accounts for 70% to 80% of breast cancer cases (American Cancer Society data).
2- Lobular carcinoma
– It occurs in the glands that produce milk.
– Rarely becomes invasive
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When breast cancer occurs in pregnant women
A diagnosis of breast cancer during pregnancy can be very overwhelming and distressing, but you should know that breast cancer during pregnancy is rare.
In Spain, it is estimated that one in every 3,000 to 10,000 pregnant women are diagnosed with breast cancer, according to data from the Spanish Association Against Cancer.
Because pregnant women undergo hormonal changes, detecting a possible case of breast cancer is even more difficult, as the main changes that occur take place in the breasts. For this reason, we recommend that, in the event of any changes in your breasts, you make a medical visit so that you can be referred to a specialised test and try to detect it as early as possible.
Diagnosis of cancer during pregnancy
There are several tests that can detect breast cancer during pregnancy. Among them, one of the first alternatives is a breast ultrasound, as it does not emit radiation and is much simpler to perform.
On the other hand, mammograms can also be performed, as the amount of radiation is more limited and is directed at the breasts, preventing it from reaching the rest of the body.
In addition, there are other methods, e.g. nuclear magnetic resonance imaging or biopsies, which can also be an alternative for the patient and the doctor.
The decision on the best way to diagnose breast cancer during pregnancy will be determined by your attending physicians, as they are the ones who are monitoring your pregnancy and will know best which less invasive alternative to choose.
Cancer treatment during pregnancy
In determining which treatment to choose, several factors should be considered, such as the months of gestation, the age, characteristics and stage of the tumour, and, especially, the patient’s wishes.
Surgical treatment is one of the alternatives offered to combat cancer and consists of removing the tumour. Here the doctor can choose to keep the breasts with the remaining healthy tissue (conservative surgery) or to remove the entire breast (mastectomy).
On the other hand, chemotherapy has been a very good treatment alternative for pregnant women for many years. In this type of treatment, it is essential to know that it should not be used during the first trimester of pregnancy, as these are key weeks for the formation of the baby’s organs.
Can I get pregnant after breast cancer?
Breast cancer treatments mainly affect the ovarian reserve, directly affecting a woman’s fertility. Despite this, a woman can still get pregnant after breast cancer, as long as she takes certain precautions before starting treatment.
The ideal scenario is that, when cancer has been detected early, fertility preservation by egg or ovarian cortex freezing is used.
Egg freezing, also known as oocyte vitrification, is a very good alternative offered by Assisted Reproduction for women who have just been diagnosed with breast cancer, as it allows them to freeze the eggs they have at that moment in order to be able to use them after their cancer treatment.
This alternative is more likely to be successful if the patient has good quality eggs and is fertile.
Frequently asked questions about breast cancer and fertility
There are some factors that may increase the risk of suffering from this disease, such as being over 40 or 45 years old, a family history of breast cancer, hormonal therapies after menopause, never having been pregnant, among others.
There is no specific age for breast cancer to occur, however, it is most likely to appear after the age of 40.
Cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy, affect the ovarian reserve, altering the ability to become a mother.
If you are interested in obtaining more information about egg freezing or any other type of Assisted Reproduction treatment, we invite you to write to us, the first visit is free of charge!