Breast Cancer: Breast Cancer in Young Women
- What is different about breast cancer in young women?
- Can breast cancer in younger women be prevented?
- Should women under age 40 get mammograms?
- What's the best way for younger women to screen for breast cancer?
- How is breast cancer treated in young women?
- Find a local Oncologist in your town
Younger women generally do not consider themselves to be at risk for breast cancer. Only 5 percent of all breast cancer cases occur in women under 40 years old. However, breast cancer can strike at any age, and all women should be aware of their personal risk factors for breast cancer. (A risk factor is a condition or behavior that puts a person at risk for developing a disease.)
There are several factors that put a woman at high risk for developing breast cancer, including:
Risk factors include:
- A personal history of breast cancer or non-cancerous breast disease
- A family history of breast cancer, particularly in a mother, daughter or sister
- History of radiation therapy Evidence of a specific genetic defect (BRCA1/BRCA2 mutation). Women who carry defects on either of these genes are at greater risk for developing breast cancer.
- A Gail Index score of at least 1.7% (The Gail Index uses risk factors such as age, family history of breast cancer, age of first menstrual period and first pregnancy, and number of breast biopsies to calculate a woman's risk of developing breast cancer within the next five years.)
An extended use of oral contraceptives (the Pill) later in life is also sometimes considered a factor for developing breast cancer. However, this is still subject to much debate in the medical community.
What Is Different About Breast Cancer in Younger Women?
Diagnosing breast cancer in younger women (under 40 years old) is more difficult because their breast tissue is generally more dense than the breast tissue in older women. By the time a lump in a younger woman's breast can be felt, the cancer often is advanced.
In addition, breast cancer in younger women may be aggressive and less likely to respond to treatment . Women who are diagnosed with breast cancer at a younger age are more likely to have a mutated (altered) BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene.
Delays in diagnosing breast cancer also are a problem. Many younger women who have breast cancer ignore the warning signs -- such as a breast lump or unusual discharge -- because they believe they are too young to get breast cancer.
Many women assume they are too young to get breast cancer and tend to assume a lump is a harmless cyst or other growth. Some health care providers also dismiss breast lumps in young women as cysts and adopt a "wait and see" approach.
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