Do Docs Miss Breast Cancer Warning Signs in Breastfeeding Mothers?

by Tanya Lieberman, IBCLC | November 29, 2012 6:50 am

We are so excited to share this guest post by Dr. Shannon Tierney, Breast Oncology Surgeon at the Swedish Cancer Institute in Seattle, Washington.  We loved her story about how her interest in breastfeeding developed (“How a Surgeon Ended up in the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine”) and were motivated by Jamie Thomas‘ breast cancer story to help more moms (you can help too).  We’re so grateful for the time Dr. Tierney has taken to share the important – but surprisingly hard-to-find – information below. 

In the haze of joy and sleeplessness during the months after childbirth, thoughts about breast cancer are the last thing on a new mother’s mind. Her body is undergoing so many changes that, of course, she and her doctors would naturally assume any breast changes are related to breastfeeding.

Probably, they are.  However, there is a small but real incidence of women who develop breast cancer during and following pregnancy. Often, they end up having delays in seeking evaluation and getting a diagnosis, because they or their doctors may not appreciate that risk!

So, what things should prompt an evaluation?

What evaluation should be done?

Breastfeeding has the potential to reduce lifetime cancer risk anywhere between 5-59% but is not a risk-free window. Women who have a concern should not be dismissed just because they are breastfeeding, nor should their health care providers overreact and encourage early weaning in order to get them evaluated.

When we know how to evaluate the “working” breast properly, we can ensure that fewer women experience delays in diagnosis and more women can continue to breastfeed successfully.



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