Breast Cancer – Young Women
Although many people believe that young women don’t get breast cancer, the fact is they can and they do. One in every 229 women between the ages of 30 and 39 will be diagnosed with breast cancer within the next 10 years.
The statistics that surround younger women and breast cancer are frightening. Although only a small percentage of all new breast cancer cases each year involve women aged 40 and younger, breast cancer is still the leading cause of death for women between the ages of 15 and 54. The number of young women diagnosed each year with breast cancer is between 11-12,000. Close to 1400 of those women will die each year. A lot of young women and their doctors do not realize that they too are at risk for this disease.
One of the problems with detection of breast cancer in younger women is that a mammogram is not an effective screening tool for women under 40. Younger women tend to have dense breast tissue and that prevents tumors or areas of calcifications to be seen in the film. Because of the lack of screening tools, younger women are often diagnosed at a later stage in the disease than their older counterparts. In addition, young women’s cancers are generally more aggressive and have lower rates of survival. The survival rate for 5 years is 83% for younger women – lower than the survival rate for post-menopausal women.
Another issue that impacts younger women who have breast cancer is that most research is done on breast cancer patients who are over the age of 40 or post-menopausal. Younger women are an underrepresented population in research studies. The drug Tamoxifen is an example of a drug which affects post-menopausal women differently than pre-menopausal women, so younger women who are prescribed this drug as treatment need to do careful research on their own to make sure that the benefits outweigh the risks of the drug.
An additional area of concern for younger women who have breast cancer include issues such as early onset on menopause and fertility issues. Many young women who are diagnosed with breast cancer have not yet begun a family. One of the side effects of chemotherapy and/or hormonal therapies can be irreversible menopause. Tamoxifen is a drug that can affect fertility, so again, younger women will need to research their choices carefully if they plan to have children or start a family in the future. One of the newer treatments for women with hormone receptive breast cancer has only been shown to be effective with post-menopausal women, so a treatment option that younger women will have to make in the future is if they want to take tamoxifen OR shut down or remove their ovaries to bring on early menopause to benefit from a more effective treatment.
The final issue that young women with breast cancer face is the isolation they sometimes feel – brought about by being the youngest in their support group and having to deal with different issues than their older counterparts. One organization which helps provide a network for young breast cancer survivors is the Young Survival Coalition.
Breast Cancer – Young Women