What you need to know about breast cancer among lactating mothers

Dr Avinash Deo, a medical oncologist, SL Raheja Hospital and Dr Manjiri Mehta, a consultant gynaecologist, an obstetrician, and a laparoscopic surgeon, Hiranandani Hospital, Vashi. He shares how little signs can detect the possibilities of breast cancer, and what should a new mother do in these cases


In India, breast cancer is rapidly increasing and is becoming more common among younger women. The survival rate for breast cancer in Indian is as low as 60%. While a mother is breastfeeding her baby, she should also be concerned about the health of her breast.

Breastfeeding women are usually aware of how their breasts feel and will generally notice the physical changes in their breasts.

It is common to find breast lumps during lactation, which might be a sign of worry about breast cancer for a mother. However, there is a small but definite chance of women developing breast cancer in the breastfeeding phase.

Often, there is a delay in evaluation and diagnosis, which can put a mother at risk of developing advanced breast cancer. The good news is that cancer treatment can be given as effectively to a breastfeeding mother as to any other woman.

Every year, October is observed as Breast Cancer Awareness month. Breast Cancer is caused due to a combination of several factors thus it is crucial for mothers to take tremendous care while breastfeeding, as there may be the signs or risk of breast cancer involved during this phase.

Tiredness and sleepless nights, during the initial months after childbirth are common; thoughts related to breast cancer are rare, especially, on a new mother’s mind.

During this phase, a mother’s body undergoes several changes, so both the mother and the doctor might assume that changes in the breasts are related to breastfeeding only. However, there are slight chances of women developing breast cancer while in the breastfeeding phase. Often, there is a delay in evaluation and diagnosis, which can put a mother at risk of having breast cancer.

Immediately get screened if one spots one or more of the following signs:

Lumps: Most of the time, it is observed that there are changes in the breast tissue as it accelerates the production of the milk. A different lump or dominant mass, such as palpable breast mass could be a clogged duct, a Cyst or a common malignant tumour, but if all this does not resolve within some weeks after undergoing treatment, then you need to undergo a screening test without delay.

Redness: This represents infections like Mastitis (breast swelling), and it doesn’t resolve within a few weeks of treatment, one may require imaging and biopsy, as per doctor’s advice.

It is vital to take the right antibiotics with proper instructions given by your physician. A rare form of Breast Cancer, Inflammatory Breast Cancer (IBC), can grow and spread quickly, therefore timely diagnosis is crucial.

Baby refusing to have milk from one breast or bloody milk: It is mainly due to nipple trauma, issues in latching or improper positioning while latching; it is crucial to consult a certified lactation consultant immediately.

However, this issue can rarely present a form of Breast Cancer within milk conduits.

Feeling of something is not right with the breast: If something is not well with your breast, and you feel minor pain or discomfort while feeding your baby, one must consult a doctor immediately, as it can turn out to be a problem or a sign of breast cancer.