Young Women and Breast Cancer; The Reality

Nov 19, 2019
Young Women and Breast Cancer; The Reality
Breast cancer has never been a diagnosis that attaches itself to a particular age group or generation. Although it is most commonly found in women over the age of 50, there is still a high number of young men and women who are diagnosed every year.

Breast cancer has never been a diagnosis that attaches itself to a particular age group or generation. Although it is most commonly found in women over the age of 50, there is still a high number of young men and women who are diagnosed every year. One of the scariest things? The tools to help with the diagnosis and to detect at an earlier age are still not up to par, nor do they help with diagnosis as well as one would hope. When it comes to awareness, it needs to begin at a young age and not be a topic or knowledge limited to anyone. 

It's common for many women to not worry about the slightest possibility of breast cancer until they reach their 50th birthday, after starting regular mammograms around their 40th birthday. But for many young women, just starting families and very exciting careers, it's a different story. According to the Young Survival Coalition, "breast cancer in young women tends to be diagnosed in its late stages and is more aggressive. It is estimated that 12% of cases of breast cancer will be in women under the age of 40 and approximately 26,393 women will be under 45 years of age. Every year more than 1000 women under the age of 40 die from breast cancer." Some of these young women who are diagnosed are very healthy and come from a family never touched by breast cancer, so it can come as quite a shock to receive this information out of the blue. Which is why we have stressed in past blogs, that as soon as you can start educating yourself and understanding your body as a young woman, the better. Be aware of signs, symptoms, and what to look for. Learn how to give yourself self breast examinations, and never be quite if something seems out of the ordinary. Be proactive in mentioning anything to your doctor, and never let something go unsaid. They are there to help you with any step along the way. Women who do have family members who have been diagnosed need to be even more proactive, starting exams early and having mammograms as early as their mid 30's. It is also recommended to do the newest genetic testing available to test for the BRAC1 or BRAC2 gene mutation. If you test positive for either, it is more likely that breast cancer could be in your future. If so, become proactive as possible and learn to watch your body closely with your eyes and those of a professional. 

Sadly, as common as breast cancer can appear in younger women, it still isn't a topic that is spoken about enough. This is why we want to spread more awareness on the topic and provide some eye-opening information. Please take all of this information to heart, and spread the awareness as much as you can. Care for yourself and the women around you. Share, support, and never be quite. We are here to help guide you through any of these steps. 

The Facts and Diagnosis 

  • As we mentioned above, it is a rarity that women below the age of 40 are diagnosed with breast cancer, but more than 250,000 women living in the United States will be diagnosed. Younger women have a higher mortality rate along with a higher chance of cancer returning to areas beyond the breast once they have been diagnosed. 
  • As mentioned above in our opening statement, there is still not an effective breast cancer screening tool for this group of younger women. Their breast tissue is too dense for modern mammography machines to scan through and be useful in diagnosis. 
  • In this situation, it couldn't be more important to learn how to give self breast examinations and to understand what to look out for. Nearly 80% of young women who are diagnosed are the ones who find the abnormality or something off with their bodies. Stay vigilant with yearly doctor exams too, never skip these important visits. 
  • Breast cancer in younger women tends to be fast-growing, a higher grade, and hormone receptor-negative. This makes it a much more aggressive cancer and more likely will need chemo for treatment. 

How it Affects Younger Bodies and Lifestyles 

  • Many young women who are diagnosed are just in the middle of starting a family and a career. They should be worrying about so many other things, but are instead forced to stop their lives to fight their diagnosis. When diagnosed this can affect so many parts of your life. You might be raising small children during treatment and you might want to continue having children after the treatment is complete. But with budding careers, many women are having issues paying for the treatment due to poor health insurance or the lack of. 
  • Treatment might cause intimacy issues between you and your partner as well as sexual dysfunction. 
  • Many young women struggle more with body image, especially after cancer-related surgeries. 
  • Chemo may damage the ovaries, with the chance of losing fertility. It can bring on early menopause and limit pregnancy. Do not go on chemo or similar treatments if you are already pregnant. 
  • If you and your doctor decide to use Tamoxifen as part of your treatment, your period does have a higher rate of returning. Talk about this as an option with your doctor if you are interested. 

What's Next 

  • If you are a young woman who has been diagnosed, continue to be proactive. Learn all that you can about your cancer and how you can make your battle as smooth as possible. Find your tribe, your support group, and a doctor you trust and who supports you. 
  • Be honest with yourself and your loved ones. Ask for what you need and don't be afraid to ask for help. 
  • Even as the current facts aren't the most promising, research is still ongoing to improve fertility preservation and breast cancer treatments for younger women. 
  • If you are wanting to have children after your treatments, there are drugs out there that can shut your ovaries down during the treatment process. This will prevent the chemo from attacking the fast-growing cells found in the ovaries that can damage them. Cancer is a fast-growing cell, and the chemo won't be able to tell the difference between the two unless you take preventative action.
  • You can store embryos or freeze unfertilized eggs before treatment to help with reproduction after treatment. 
  • There are two incredible foundations dedicated specifically to young women with breast cancer. The first is the Bring Your Brave Campaign. This incredible foundation provides huge amounts of information about breast cancer for women 45 years and younger. They share real stories about other young women who have also been affected by breast cancer at an early age. The second foundation is the Advisory Committee on Breast Cancer in Young Women. This foundation is focused on sharing evidence-based on real events to spread awareness, understanding, and truth about breast cancer among young women. There are tons of people out there willing and wanting to help. You are not alone. 

We are here to also spread awareness and offer as much support and guidance as you need. Be aware that cancer will never discriminate based on age or sex, and that staying as educated and aware about your body is the best defense that you can have.