According to a study published in the journal Radiology, mammography detected a majority of breast cancers in pregnant women, in spite of high breast density. Imaging by ultrasound identified masses in all the women with cancer and also provided information about treatment response.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer affecting pregnant women, and occurs in roughly one out of 3000 pregnant women. A majority of women who develop breast cancer during pregnancy are in their 30s. Previous studies have suggested that at least 25% of breast cancers in pregnant women are missed by mammography, prompting recommendations for the biopsy of palpable breast masses that are identified during pregnancy.
To evaluate the results of breast imaging with mammography and ultrasound among pregnant women with breast cancer, researchers reviewed the records of 23 women with a total of 24 cancers. All women had been diagnosed with breast cancer and treated with chemotherapy during pregnancy. The median patient age was 34 years.
Before surgery, three women had received imaging with mammography, four women had received imaging with ultrasound, and 17 women had received imaging with mammography and ultrasound.
- Mammography suggested the presence of cancer in 18 of the 20 women who underwent mammography.
- Ultrasound detected a mass in all 20 women who underwent ultrasound.
- Ultrasound correctly classified cancer in the lymph nodes in 15 of the 18 women who had nodal assessment by ultrasound.
- Ultrasound was also useful for evaluating response to chemotherapy.
The researchers conclude that breast cancer during pregnancy can often be detected by mammography. Ultrasound, when used, detects masses in the breast and lymph nodes and provides information about treatment response.
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 National Cancer Institute. Breast Cancer and Pregnancy (PDQ®). Health Professional Version. Available at . (Accessed April 27, 2006).
Yang WT, Dryden MJ, Gwyn K et al. Imaging of Breast Cancer Diagnosed and Treated with Chemotherapy During Pregnancy. Radiology. 2006;239:52-60.
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