Breast imaging is an important diagnostic tool for the early detection of breast cancer, and sometimes it is necessary during lactation. However, you may be concerned about both the safety and the accuracy of breast imaging while breastfeeding. Let’s explore the two most common types of breast imaging used for women who are lactating as well as discuss considerations when breast biopsy is needed.
Mammography is a type of breast imaging that uses low-dose X-rays to produce images of the breast tissue. Mammography is considered safe for women who are lactating, but it is important to inform the mammography technologist that you are breastfeeding. The technologist can take special care to avoid compressing the breast tissue too firmly, which can cause discomfort and/or leakage of breast milk. Mammography is an important tool for the early detection of breast cancer, but it may be less accurate in lactating breasts because of the increased density of breast tissue. You should plan to empty your breasts immediately prior to mammogram imaging.
Ultrasound is a type of breast imaging that uses high-frequency sound waves to produce images of the breast tissue. Ultrasound is considered safe for women who are lactating because it does not use ionizing radiation. Ultrasound can be used to evaluate breast lumps or changes in breast tissue that are found during a breast exam or mammogram. Ultrasound is used to distinguish between solid masses and cysts. Breast lumps during lactation are most commonly cysts which are typically benign.
A breast biopsy may be recommended if a suspicious area is detected during a mammogram or breast ultrasound. A breast core biopsy is a procedure in which a small sample of breast tissue is removed and examined under a microscope. This can be performed safely in women who are lactating, but it is important to inform the doctor and technologist that you are breastfeeding. You will be advised to empty your breasts just prior to the procedure. The procedure may cause some discomfort and you will be informed of the rare risk for the development of a milk fistula. There is rarely a need to interrupt breastfeeding after a breast core biopsy.
If you need a breast core biopsy while you are breastfeeding, we strongly encourage you to work with a lactation consultant both before and after the procedure. Also, consider asking for a list of medications that may be used during the procedure, so that you can confirm the medications’ safety while breastfeeding.