Breast cancer in younger women and during pregnancy
Read answers to your questions about breast cancer in younger women and during pregnancy, as part of our Breast Cancer Q&A with experts from Breakthrough Breast Cancer and Breast Cancer Care.
For more information about breast cancer, please see the factsheet Pregnancy and Breast Cancer Risk: The Facts.
Breast cancer in younger women
gramercy: Why is breast cancer increasing in 'young' (pre-menopasual) women? What has changed over the past 30-40 years?
Whethergirl: Just wanted to say that there are obviously high risk factors but that we are all individual and our bodies don't always follow statistics. I had breast cancer when I was 27 (11 years ago) and no-one in my family had it or has it since, so to get it at such a young age in these circumstances was against all the odds.
Breast Cancer Care nursing team: Gramercy, your question and comment are topics we are often asked about at Breast Cancer Care. Research suggests that breast cancer is caused by a combination of many different things. We still don't know what the exact causes are, or why some people get breast cancer and some don't.
Breast cancer risk is strongly related to age, with 80% of cases occurring in women aged 50 years and over. About half of all breast cancers are diagnosed in the 50-69 age group. However, with so much media attention focusing on young women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer, it's not difficult to be led to believe that the incidence in younger women is increasing at a rapid rate.
Breast cancer statistics in recent years do, indeed, show an increase in the number of younger women being diagnosed, but an increase is actually seen across all age groups and more so between the ages of 50-69.
Although breast cancer is not a common problem in young women, it is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer in women under 35, with around 2,000 cases each year in women in their 20s and 30s. More and more younger women are becoming breast aware, which means they are able to notice any unusual changes and report them to their GP.
As Whethergirl writes, being diagnosed with breast cancer at a young age can have many implications. Breast Cancer Care provides dedicated information and services to support anyone affected by breast cancer at a young age. You can get more support and advice on our forum for young women affected by breast cancer.
Pregnancy and breastfeeding
Kayme: How do you check your breasts for lumps if you are breastfeeding? They feel different to normal.
Whomovedmychocolate: Could you get breast cancer while you are breastfeeding? Your boobs are all lumpy when lactating, so what exactly should I be looking for?
Hoochie: I know of a woman who definitely had a tumour while breastfeeding, but didn't get diagnosed until after.
Breast Cancer Care nursing team: Checking your breasts when you are breastfeeding can feel different, both when you're pregnant and breast-feeding. The changes that occur in the breasts when you're pregnant are all to do with preparing the breasts for feeding your baby. These changes are caused by the sudden increase in the hormones oestrogen, progesterone and prolactin – the hormone which triggers the production of milk.
Breasts can look different, in that your nipples and the areola (darker area around the nipple) become darker in colour and the veins in your breast become more noticeable. The nipples can leak small amounts of straw-coloured liquid and later milk. A few women can even experience occasional leakage of blood from the nipple, due to the increased number and sudden growth of blood vessels. The breasts expand as the milk producing cells get bigger and can therefore feel 'lumpy'.
Breast lumps sometimes occur during pregnancy. The most common ones are cysts (fluid-filled sacs), galactoceles (milk-filled cysts) and fibroadenomas (fibrous tissue). If you already have a fibroadenoma you may find this gets bigger during pregnancy.
Breast cancer in women of a child-bearing age is not common and even more uncommon during pregnancy, and the vast majority of breast lumps in pregnancy will be benign (non-cancerous). However, it's a good idea to get any new breast lump checked out by your GP. He/she can then refer you to a breast clinic for further tests if they feel it's necessary.
Breast Cancer Care's booklet Breast changes during and after pregnancy explains more about this subject and you can find out more about breast awareness in our booklet called Your breasts, your health, throughout your life or watch our helpful DVD on breast awareness.
If you are breastfeeding and you have noticed a change in your breast or are worried, or would like to order any of our publications or DVD, you can also call Breast Cancer Care's confidential helpline staffed by someone with personal or professional experience of breast cancer. This is a free helpline on 0808 800 6000.
We have made every effort to ensure that the content of these answers is accurate and up to date, but we accept no liability in relation to typographical errors or third-party information. Please be aware that the responses from the Breast Cancer Care and Breakthrough Breast Cancer teams are not a substitute for professional medical care. If you have any concerns about your breast health or any treatment you are receiving you should discuss these with your doctor. Responses from Breast Cancer Care and Breakthrough Breast Cancer are only accurate at the time of posting as medical knowledge and treatment can change over time.