What to Know About Breastfeeding and Breast Cancer

October 23, 2012

[Updated October 12, 2017]

One in eight U.S. women will develop breast cancer over the course of their lifetime. And many women find that while they’re breastfeeding or pumping, they’re more aware than ever of their breast health, including how they can reduce the risk of breast cancer and what warning signs to watch for.

While some women already know that breastfeeding and pumping can reduce their risks, there is more to know about breastfeeding and how it relates to breast cancer. We’re tackling some of the most common questions to keep all breastfeeding moms informed.

Can breastfeeding help reduce my risk of breast cancer?

Yes! Many studies have shown that breastfeeding lowers your risk of developing breast cancer. And, the longer you breastfeed in your lifetime, the more the risk is reduced.

Can I get breast cancer while I’m breastfeeding?

While it’s very rare, a small percentage of women do develop breast cancer while they are breastfeeding. Lactating breasts are often lumpy and bumpy due to normal breast fullness, and occasional plugged ducts. Just be sure to pay attention to how your breasts normally feel and make sure you know the signs of a suspicious lump that needs medical attention.

While you’re breastfeeding, you’re more likely to be in tune with how your breasts look and feel, but it’s also important to remember to continue doing routine at-home breast checks. Typically, a concerning lump is one that doesn’t go away; it may be firm and non-painful, will stay in a fixed position, and may cause the skin around it to pucker and look like the stippled skin of an orange. If you have any questions or concerns about something you feel in your breasts, be sure to get it checked out by your doctor.

Can I still get a mammogram while breastfeeding?

Yes, it’s possible to get a mammogram while breastfeeding. Just be sure to talk with your healthcare provider. Because breast tissue is very dense during lactation, a mammogram may not be the preferred diagnostic tool; they may recommend you get an ultrasound or MRI. Just make sure you empty your breasts completely just before your appointment to help make the results more clear.

Will I be able to breastfeed after having breast cancer?

Many moms want to breastfeed after undergoing breast cancer treatment, and while it may present a few challenges, it’s certainly possible. If you’ve had a single mastectomy, you can nurse on just one breast, which often supplies enough milk. But if you’re struggling to establish a supply, try working with a Lactation Consultant, then consider a specialty feeding device like the Supplemental Nursing System. It can be incredibly empowering to be able to provide breast milk to your little one after such a harrowing experience.

Does breastfeeding prevent any other cancers?

Recent studies show that women who breastfeed also lower their risk of developing both endometrial and ovarian cancers. And, just like with breast cancer, the longer a woman breastfeeds, the lower her risk becomes.

As always, education and early detection are the best ways to reduce your risk, so be sure to share this with the other women in your life..

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