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Breast Health

What is Causing Breast Cancer in Young Women?

Photo: Courtesy of Priscilla Du Preez

Breast cancer diagnosis in young women appears to have biological characteristics and treatment concerns that differ from breast cancer diagnosed in postmenopausal women. The Young Survival Coalition (YSC) has dedicated itself to improving to quality and length of life for all young women with breast cancer since 1998 and continues to do so.

The facts

Despite the misconception that young women don’t get breast cancer, the reality is that they can and they do. Here are some important and startling facts about breast cancer in young women:

  • Breast cancer is the most common cancer in U.S. women ages 15 to 39.
  • There is currently no effective breast cancer screening tool for women age 40 and under.
  • Nearly 80 percent of young women diagnosed with breast cancer find their breast abnormality themselves.
  • The American Cancer Society projects 232,340 new cases of invasive breast cancer among U.S. women annually, as well as an estimated 64,640 additional cases of in situ breast cancer.
  • Approximately 26,275 women will be under 45 years of age when diagnosed. It is projected that over 1,000 women under age 40 will die from breast cancer each year.
  • Young women are more likely to have aggressive subtypes of breast cancer, including triple negative and HER2+ disease, larger tumor sizes and higher incidence of lymph node involvement.
  • Today there are an estimated 250,000 breast cancer survivors living in the U.S. who were diagnosed at age 40 or younger.

The issues

Young women diagnosed with breast cancer face a myriad of issues that may significantly impact their quality and length of life. These issues are often amplified for women diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. Some of these concerns include:

  • Lack of research: As the incidence of young women with breast cancer is much lower than in older women, young women are often an underrepresented population in research studies.
  • Pregnancy: Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in women who are pregnant or have recently given birth, occurring once in every 3,000 pregnancies.  An estimated 30 percent or more of all breast cancer in young women is diagnosed in the few years after a woman has had a baby.
  • Early onset menopause: Chemotherapy and hormonal treatments can sometimes bring on premature menopause which can significantly impact quality of life.
  • Fertility: Breast cancer treatment may affect a woman’s ability and plans to have children.
  • Child rearing: Many young women are raising small children while enduring treatment and subsequent side effects.
  • Financial challenges: Breast cancer can dramatically impact a young woman’s financial stability as it pertains to workplace issues, being underinsured and the cost of cancer care.
  • Body image: It may be challenging for some women to embrace their new body after breast cancer-related surgery.
  • Relationships and dating: Whether married or single, intimacy issues may arise for women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer.
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