Breast Imaging During Pregnancy

Breast Imaging During Pregnancy

Breast imaging during pregnancy is safe except for x-rays and CT scans. Ultrasound is the safest and usually the first line of breast imaging modality in pregnancy. MR is also safe but reserved for complicated cases.

Where necessary and especially where the life of the mother is in danger, even a chest x-ray or an x-ray mammogram can also be done with proper fetal protection.

Pregnancy-related breast cancer is uncommon. However, notify your doctor or nurse as soon as possible if you detect a lump or see any changes in your breasts that worry you.

If breast cancer is suspected, a pregnant woman might undergo a number of tests. One of the most important and accurate diagnostic techniques is breast imaging during pregnancy. Additionally, if you are pregnant, there are choices for treating breast cancer.

If breast cancer is discovered when you are pregnant, it may be referred to as gestational breast cancer or pregnancy-associated breast cancer (PABC).

Note: One in every 3,000 pregnant women has breast cancer, on average. It is the most typical kind of cancer discovered while pregnant. [ref]

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Can breast cancers be hard to locate during pregnancy?

The breasts alter during pregnancy due to changes in hormone levels. The breasts might enlarge, get lumpy, or even become sensitive.

As a result, it could take a lump caused by cancer until it is fairly large for you or your doctor to discover it.

Because many women wait until after their pregnancies to get mammograms, it may also be difficult to detect breast cancers early during pregnancy.

Breast tissue might become thicker during pregnancy and nursing. So it can make it more difficult to detect early cancer on a mammogram even when women decide to take mammograms.

Due to these difficulties, breast cancer in pregnant women is frequently discovered at a later stage than it is in women who are not pregnant. It’s more probable, for instance, that lymph nodes have already been affected.

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Consult if you notice a breast lump . . .

Do not overlook any lumps or other changes in your breasts that worry you. Inform your physician or the nurse immediately. Before thinking any abnormal breast changes are a typical reaction to pregnancy, they should be examined or possibly biopsied.

If necessary, a variety of imaging procedures can be utilized in addition to a clinical breast exam to check for breast abnormalities.

Usually, a mammography or breast ultrasound can be performed. Another option is frequently a breast biopsy.

It involves removing a portion of the abnormal region to examine it for cancer cells. It is done particularly if imaging tests reveal a suspicious result.

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Biopsies during pregnancy

A biopsy is often performed if a new breast lump or abnormal imaging test results raise worries about a breast alteration possibly being cancer.

Small samples of breast tissue are removed from the problematic region during a biopsy.

A hollow needle is used in the most popular breast biopsy method. It is called a core needle biopsy, to extract breast tissue samples.

Even if you’re pregnant, this is often done as an outpatient operation. Most frequently, local anesthesia (numbing medication) is utilized to numb the breast region where the biopsy will be performed. The fetus is not at much risk from this.

A surgical biopsy is often the next step if a core needle biopsy fails to provide a definitive result.

In this kind of biopsy, a smaller cut (incision) is made in the breast to extract a bigger amount of breast tissue.

The fetus is slightly in danger during surgical biopsies. It is because they frequently include general anesthesia (when you are given medication to put you into a deep slumber).

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Is breast imaging safe during pregnancy?

The exposure of the growing baby to radiation, which might be damaging, is a major worry with any imaging test during pregnancy, especially during the first trimester.


Mammograms are typically considered safe to have during pregnancy. They can detect the majority of breast cancers that begin when a woman is pregnant.

Mammography only requires a little quantity of radiation. And because the radiation is directed at the breasts, the majority of it does not penetrate other areas of the body.

Mammograms can be done via ultrasound as well. This is called a sono-mammogram. Sonomammogram is a simple breast ultrasound and is 100% safe during pregnancy.

It is better to opt for a sono-mammogram than the traditional mammogram that is performed by giving radiation.

A breast ultrasound or imaging is regarded to be safe during pregnancy because they don’t use radiation.

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Imaging where radiations are used:

Imaging modalities where the fetus gets exposed to radiation and are harmful to the fetus are:

  • computed tomography (CT) scans,
  • PET scans, and
  • bone scans
  • x-rays

These modalities should be avoided and used only if there is a situation of life and death for the mother. Even when used during pregnancy, proper precautions and protection should be used.

MR (Magnetic resonance imaging):

Radiation is not used in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). However, in order to capture accurate pictures during a breast MRI, gadolinium must often be administered into the patient’s blood.

This contrast has been connected to prenatal defects in lab animals. It can pass the placenta, which connects the mother to the fetus. Due to this, doctors frequently advise against breast MRI during pregnancy.

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Breast imaging tests to stage cancer

If breast cancer is discovered, more testing may be required to determine whether cancer cells have spread inside or outside. Staging is the term for this procedure. Depending on the specifics of your case, different staging tests can be required.

As previously mentioned, ultrasound exams are risk-free during pregnancy since they don’t use radiation.

Sometimes x-rays of the chest are required to aid with treatment choices. They produce photos using a minimal quantity of radiation.

As far as the belly is protected, they are usually regarded as being safe to have while you are pregnant.

The fetus is more likely to be exposed to radiation during other examinations such as computed tomography (CT) scans PET scans and bone scans.

In particular, if it is believed that the disease only affects the breast. These tests are not frequently required to stage breast cancer.

If one of these tests is required, medical professionals may be able to make modifications to reduce the radiation exposure to the fetus.

The amount of radiation that person gets exposed to following a CT scan is 1000 times greater than that of a chest x-ray.

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Is it possible for breast cancer to spread to the baby?

There is no evidence that maternal breast cancer may transmit to the developing fetus. However, in a few uncommon instances, cancer has spread to the placenta (the organ that connects the mother to the fetus).

This could have an impact on how much nutrients the mother provides to the fetus.

Note: Although certain modifications may be required to help safeguard the unborn, the treatment regimen for breast cancer in pregnant women is largely comparable to that given to non-pregnant women, particularly for early-stage cancer.

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What do you think?

Written by Dr. Ahmed

I am Dr. Ahmed (MBBS; FCPS Medicine), an Internist and a practicing physician. I am in the medical field for over fifteen years working in one of the busiest hospitals and writing medical posts for over 5 years.

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