Link between Breast-feeding and Breast cancer

It is common to find breast lumps during breastfeeding, which can cause women to be worried about breast cancer. Breastfeeding mothers are often acutely aware of how their breasts feel so they will usually notice any physical changes.

Breast-feeding during cancer treatment may be possible, but it is important to speak to a doctor before and during the treatment process.

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Women with breast cancer are likely to have concerns about the safety of breast-feeding and may wonder whether their cancer treatment could affect the baby.

Can you get breast cancer while breast-feeding?

Though it is a rare occurrence, but it is possible to develop breast cancer while breast-feeding a baby. Breast-feeding women account for 3% of breast cancer cases.

According to the National Cancer Institute, some research suggests that the risk of breast cancer is momentarily higher in the years after pregnancy and childbirth. This increased risk may be the result of hormonal changes during pregnancy.

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Generally, breast-feeding lowers the risk of breast cancer, especially in premenopausal women.

The months of pregnancy and breast-feeding will decrease the number of menstrual cycles that a woman has in her lifetime. This will reduce her exposure to hormones that can upsurge the risk of certain cancers.

Several factors can make it tasking for women who are breastfeeding to get a breast cancer diagnosis. These include the following:

  • Breast-feeding can cause issues that are very similar to the symptoms of breast cancer.
  • Doctors may not think to test a woman for cancer if she finds a lump while breast-feeding as there are other possible causes.
  • Mammograms and breast ultrasoundsare likely to give an incorrect positive or unconvincing result during lactation.

What else can cause a breast lump while breast-feeding?

There are many conditions other than breast cancer that can cause a lump in the breast while breast-feeding. These include:

Plugged ducts

Some cells in the breasts produce the milk before it travels in small ducts to the nipples.

If the draining of the milk is too rare, it can thicken and clog the duct. This can lead to trapped milk in the breast tissue, which may form a sore lump.

In most cases, frequent breast-feeding, breast massage, and warm compresses can help to resolve a plugged duct.


In the initial weeks of breast-feeding, it is common for the breasts to become excessively full of milk, making them feel lumpy and uncomfortable. This is called engorgement.

Engorgement is common during the early stages of breast-feeding, but it can occur whenever there is partial draining of the breasts.

The symptoms of engorgement usually recede as the breasts empty. The condition may also ease over time as the woman’s body adjusts to the baby’s demand for milk.


Mastitis is inflammation or infection of the breast. It is most likely to occur following engorgement or a plugged duct. If the milk gets trapped in the breast, milk proteins can accumulate and eventually start to leak into the surrounding tissue. Mastitis can cause the following symptoms:

  • inflammation on the breast
  • fever
  • shivers
  • feeling ill

A woman with mastitis should continue to breast-feed to help drain the trapped milk from the tissue, which is the best way possible to relieve symptoms.


An abscess is a rare complication of untreated mastitis. It is one of the ways that the body deals with an infection to prevent it from spreading all over the body.

The center of an abscess contains a pocket of pus and bacteria. Once an abscess forms, the infected tissue in the center cannot escape. An abscess normally requires urgent medical care, and treatment will include drainage and antibiotics. Anyone who thinks they may have an abscess should speak to a doctor as soon as possible.


Small cysts known as galactoceles, can form in the breast. They contain milk and may come and go depending on how much milk is in the breast.

These small lumps are not usually painful and will disappear once lactation is complete.

Can a woman breast-feed if she has breast cancer?

A breastfeeding mother is usually advised by doctor to stops breast-feeding after a breast cancer diagnosis. Many breast cancer treatments can affect a woman’s milk supply, thereby negatively impacting on the baby.

The doctor will help to determine which treatment is best for an individual with breast cancer, as this can vary from person. Possible treatments include:

  • Surgery: Surgery may be needed to remove a lump or cancerous growth. This can involve a mastectomy(removal of the breast) or a double mastectomy (removal of both breasts) in some cases. The extent of the surgery will determine whether or not the person can continue breast-feeding.
  • Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy uses strong medications to destroy cancer cells within the body. Women who are having chemotherapy will need to stop breast-feeding.
  • Radiation: Some women undergoing radiation treatment may be able to continue breast-feeding, depending on the specific type of therapy. A doctor will be able to explain the risks to allow the woman make an informed decision.


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