Breast Cancer in Younger Women

By October 28, 2023Health Tips

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I thought this would be a good time to discuss breast cancer in younger women. Although the incidence of breast cancer in young women is low, it is becoming more common. All women should be aware of this issue.

How common is breast cancer in young women?
LeukemiaAbout 9% of all new cases of breast cancer in the US are diagnosed in women younger than 45, some as young as 18. The incidence of breast cancer in women younger than 40 was about 25 cases per 100,000 women in 2019.
What are some of the characteristics of breast cancer in young women?
  • It is more likely to be hereditary than breast cancer in older women.
  • But most women who develop breast cancer at a young age don’t have a genetic risk.
  • It is more common among African American women.
  • It is more likely to be diagnosed at a later stage.
  • It is often more aggressive and difficult to treat.
  • It often takes a greater financial toll on younger patients who are more likely to have lower incomes, less savings, and high-deductible health insurance plans, or no insurance at all.
What are the risk factors associated with getting breast cancer before age 45?
You are at higher risk for breast cancer before age 45 if you have:
  • Close relatives who were diagnosed with breast cancer before age 45
  • Male relative diagnosed with breast cancer
  • Diagnosis of ovarian cancer in yourself or a close relative at any age
  • Genetic testing showing mutations in genes known to be associated with breast cancer, such as BRCA1 or BRCA2, or if a close relative has any of these genes but you haven’t been tested yet
  • Ashkenazi Jewish heritage
  • African American heritage
  • A history of radiation therapy to the chest during childhood or early adulthood
  • Had certain precancerous changes in your breast such as carcinoma in situ or atypical hyperplasia
  • Been told that you have dense breasts on a mammogram
If you have any of these risk factors for developing breast cancer at a young age, talk with your family doctor or gynecologist about your risk factors. The two of you can discuss a plan for evaluating your risk such as doing genetic counseling and testing. In fact, it is a good idea for all women to talk with their doctor around age 25 about their risk factors for breast cancer.
What are the symptoms of breast cancer?
Here are some warning signs that could indicate breast cancer:
  • New lump in your breast or armpit
  • Dimpling of breast skin
  • Thickening or swelling of part of the breast
  • Skin irritation, reddened skin, or flaky skin on the nipple area or breast
  • Pain in the nipple area or inverting of the nipple
  • Discharge or bleeding from the nipple, other than breast milk
  • Change in the size or shape of the breast
  • Pain in the breast
  • Redness and warmth of the breast
If you have any of these symptoms that might indicate breast cancer, you should see your doctor right away to have this evaluated. It certainly may be due to something other than cancer, but breast cancer should be ruled out with testing. If your doctor tells you that you are too young to get breast cancer, you should see another doctor to get the testing necessary to rule out cancer. Having your symptoms checked out sooner, rather than later, can bring you peace of mind if it turns out to be something other than breast cancer, and can buy you precious time if it is cancer. Cancer caught early is more easily and effectively treated.
We will talk more specifically about hereditary breast cancer in another Health Tip.
If you have any questions about breast cancer, please log into your account and send us your question. We are here to help.

Dr. Anita Bennett MD – Health Tip Content Editor

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