Breastfeeding and breast cancer: Here’s all you need to know

Women often have several doubts when it comes to breastfeeding and breast cancer but fail to take utmost care of their breasts and as a result, the number of women with breast cancer is rapidly rising in the country. Those women who are breastfeeding may be aware of their breast health owing to the rapid changes that occur in the breasts during lactation but a majority of women ignore their breast health and the early detection of breast cancer is not possible.

Health experts insist on paying attention to your breast health, staying healthy and vigilant while ignoring your breast health is a strict no-no. Talking about whether breastfeeding can cut down one’s risk of breast cancer, in an interview with HT Lifestyle, Dr Suhas Aagre, Oncologist and Hemato-Oncologist at Asian Cancer Institute, said, “There are many risk factors for breast cancer and some of the factors cannot be controlled but you will be surprised to know that breastfeeding has been shown to lower the chances of breast cancer. Breastfeeding has many advantages for the baby and new mother and helps to reduce the risk of various other cancers too. One may experience a delay in the menstrual cycles, which in turn decreases her lifetime exposure to estrogen. Hormones like estrogen have been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer development.”

According to various studies, there is a lower risk of ovarian cancer when comparing women who breastfed with those who did not. During breastfeeding, a woman will have fewer cycles of ovulation which lowers the chances of potential cellular and genetic mistakes that could lead to ovarian cancer.

About whether a woman can get breast cancer while breastfeeding the baby, Dr Suhas Aagre, answered, “A woman can get breast cancer at any time in her life even when she is breastfeeding the baby. But there is no known increase in risk during that time. Since women are keen about the changes happening in their breasts during the time of breastfeeding, they may be more likely to notice the red flags of breast cancer. A nursing mother’s breasts may appear to be ‘lumpy’ due to the production of milk or even blocked milk ducts. So, the lump that does not get smaller or disappear after a week should be examined by the doctor.”

Sharing his expertise on whether mammograms are recommended during breastfeeding, he revealed, “In breastfeeding women, the density of the breast tissue increases, which may make it challenging to look for abnormalities during a mammogram. Thus, it is recommended that women nurse or pump immediately before the procedure to empty the breasts. Use of MRI can be suggested as a method of evaluation during lactation”

He concluded by throwing light on whether breastfeeding can be done during cancer treatment and suggested, “It is important to ask your doctor about breastfeeding prior to starting any cancer treatments. Your treating doctor is the right person to tell you about this. You need to ensure that you follow all the guidelines given by the doctor.”

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