Breastfeeding mum’s ‘clogged milk duct’ was actually breast cancer

Beth O'Brien

When Beth O’Brien couldn’t sort out what she assumed was a clogged milk duct, she turned to a lactation consultant for help. Best endeavours still didn’t clear up the lump and she headed to the doctor for further advice.

Blocked milk duct? 

“The 38-year-old mom of three then went for an ultrasound,” ABC News reports, “and, later, a biopsy which determined she had triple-negative breast cancer stage 2.”

Stage 2 means the breast cancer is growing, but it is still contained in the breast or growth has only extended to the nearby lymph nodes. Triple negative cancers tend not to respond to the usual treatments and therapy that halt the growth of cancer. (source)

So began the fight of Beth’s life as she underwent chemotherapy, a double mastectomy and 28 doses of radiation. Beth is now cancer-free, but is preparing for a preventative hysterectomy to safeguard her health for the long term.

The mum-of-three is speaking out about her cancer diagnosis and treatment, in the hopes that it might encourage other women – and especially breastfeeding mums – to take breast self-examination seriously. 


Read more about postpartum health:


Monitor your boobs carefully

Women who are breastfeeding are no stranger to lumps and bumps, but the message here is to keep a watchful eye on your boobs and if any changes hang about for more than a couple of weeks, head off to the doctor to get checked out.

While some experts say that any hard masses that don’t hurt must be checked, any lumps and bumps that won’t shift should be looked over by the professionals. It’s also important to check in with your doctor if you’re consistently unwell (rather than soldiering on) and to get regular mammograms, once you’re over 40.  Free mammograms are available every two years to all Australian women aged 40 and over who do not have any symptoms of breast disease.

  • More than 75% of breast cancers occur in women over 50.
  • 90% of women who get breast cancer have no family history.
  • An estimated 3,046 Australian women died from breast cancer in 2016.

“It’s a blessing”

Beth, who is feeling much better and on the mend now, says she did regular breast self-examinations, but could have been more thorough. She credits breastfeeding with helping her get the diagnosis early enough to save her life.

“I did breast exams every other month … not extensively,” Beth told Good Morning America recently. “It’s a blessing that I had my daughter and she was nursing at the time. I don’t know if I would’ve discovered it if I wasn’t nursing.”

What this 38-year-old mom who discovered a lump while breastfeeding wants you to know

When Beth O'Brien was feeding her 9-month-old daughter in 2017, she came across what she thought at the time was a clogged milk duct in her breast: https://gma.abc/2u9VCV1

Posted by Good Morning America on Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Life-saving warning

While initially, Beth thought her future was grim, she’s now feeling much more optimistic and hopes that her story can save the lives of other women who might be avoiding breast examinations – or not doing them properly.

“Hearing cancer itself is pretty scary,” Beth said. “Researching it on the internet and seeing it was triple negative, which is an aggressive cancer that comes back, is an even bigger blow.”

Beth told GMA she feared for her kids more than herself.

“I [worried I] wouldn’t be there for them. My kids are my number one. They were a blessing helping me through, and my two older boys were awesome and helping with their sister. We stepped up as a family and conquered it.”

“If I can save somebody else or make them do something different in their lives then, by all means, I’ll be out there to talk about it,” Beth said.

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