From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 16 No. 4, May-June 1999, pp. 77-78
We provide articles from our publications from previous years for reference for our Leaders and members. Readers are cautioned to remember that research and medical information change over time.
Until recently, breast cancer was something I thought little about. I've been a nursing mother for four-and-a-half years. Studies have shown a reduced risk of premenopausal breast cancer in women who have breastfed. I knew it could still happen to me, but tended not to think about it. But when I felt a lump in my breast, fears of breast cancer were definitely on my mind. I remembered feeling this lump two months before, but had assumed it was a plugged milk duct, which I had experienced often. This time when I felt the lump, I decided to monitor it more closely. When it didn't change after a week of frequent nursing on that side, I knew a visit to my family doctor was needed.
The next day I saw my doctor, then had a mammogram and ultrasound. The ultrasound technician seemed perplexed until I told her I was nursing a baby. She had never performed an ultrasound on a lactating breast and the image was quite different. I went home that day to my husband, four-year-old daughter, and l7-month-old son, Peter. I had no answers, but at that point I knew I might need to have the lump removed.
As soon as I arrived home, I called my local LLL Leader and good friend, Cara. I had lots of questions about having surgery while nursing and Cara was a tremendous help. She made phone calls and looked up answers to my questions. The most important information she gave me was what to tell the doctor about the surgery to ensure I could nurse after surgery and in the future, which was important to me. I hadn't realized that a radial incision (one that was perpendicular to the nipple) would cut the fewest number of milk ducts because it would run in the same direction as the milk ducts. Most surgeons prefer to use an incision that goes around the breast because it leaves a less noticeable scar. Cara also informed me that my milk might leak through the incision, but milk contains antibodies so it should not cause infection. We suspected the doctor would recommend weaning on that side, at least temporarily.
With this information, I felt well prepared to discuss surgery with my doctor. The next week I had the lump removed under local anesthesia in the surgeon's office. He listened to my concerns related to nursing. However, he felt the lump was close to the surface of my breast and removing it would not harm milk ducts, so decided not to use the radial incision.
I was very apprehensive about nursing after surgery because the incision was just at the edge of my areola. The surgeon suggested I stop nursing on that side for one week, but I don' t think he realized that if I didn't nurse I would have more problems than I began with: engorgement, pain, possibly plugged milk ducts, or infection! So while waiting for the biopsy results, I again talked to Cara for more help. It was such a comfort to know Cara and LLL were there for me and my family with helpful answers and support that came from the experience of so many nursing mothers.
The same evening as the surgery, I decided I had to let Peter nurse and found that it was possible to have him latch on without harming the incision. Since the incision has healed well even though I continued to nurse, I feel there really was no reason to keep my son from nursing on that breast. Our new word for nursing now is “Uck” because that's what he said when he saw the incision and stitches! The day after the biopsy we received the good news that the lump, called a secretory adenoma, was benign. The doctor informed me this was a lump that formed near a milk (secretory) gland, and could probably form again in the future. This type of lump is not cancerous and would not be cancerous if it formed again. Since I live in an area where extended breastfeeding is not the norm, LLL has been a wonderful support for me for the past four-and-a-half years. LLL and my local Leader, Cara, have been a great blessing to me, especially during this trying time.