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Breast Cancer in Young Women: Resources and Statistics

Breast cancer isn't age specific. Here's how to cope with treatments and augmentations if you are diagnosed earlier in life.

Generally speaking, 130 women per 100,000 developed breast cancer in New Jersey over a four-year period, according to this breast cancer statistics chart from komen.org.

An American woman in her 30s has a one in 232 chance of getting the disease, and a woman 20 years her senior has a one in 42 probability, according to the website.    

“Although we aren’t certain, the cause of breast cancer in younger women is likely caused by a genetic predisposition,” says Ann H. Partridge, M.D., M.P.H., the medical oncologist director of the Adult Survivorship Program at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

While breast cancer treatment in young women is often effective, the chance of recovery tends to be worse in women under 40. Breast tissue is often denser in younger women, making cancer harder to detect initially.

This is why many younger women are diagnosed at later stages with more aggressive tumors. These factors all contribute to an increased need for stronger treatments, says Partridge.

Unfortunately, some of these therapies have side effects that hit younger women in different and sometimes more difficult ways than their older counterparts.

At the time of diagnosis, many young women are in the midst of building careers, getting married and starting families. A major concern for young women with breast cancer is loss of fertility. Both chemo and hormone therapies can damage the ovaries, causing irregular periods or a menopausal transition. 

For women in their 20s and 30s who continue to have their periods after chemotherapy, the ability to have children is still possible. Women who may want to become a parent after breast cancer should speak with their doctor about their options before choosing a treatment.

Locally, exams are available Saint Peter's University Hospital, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, and the University Medical Center of Princeton.

Those who are diagnosed after starting families also face unique challenges.

“It was difficult being 25 years old and finding out I had breast cancer, but it was even harder to figure out how to explain what was going on to my four-year-old son,” says Crystal King, an eight-year survivor and the manager of multicultural marketing for Susan G. Komen for the Cure Circle of Promise.

Another source of distress among young women with breast cancer is the way their appearance will be affected by treatments. Healthy or not, a woman's happiness with her breast size and shape can have an impact on her overall body image. 

More than 307,000 breast implant augmentation surgeries were performed in 2011. This is just an example of women looking to their breasts for a confidence boost—and young women facing breast cancer are no exception.

The under-40 demographic tends to have greater emotional distress over how cancer treatments will affect their appearance than their older counterparts.

King had just gotten engaged a few months prior to her diagnosis, and was “a bit upset by the thought of a mastectomy.”  

“My mother was not at all concerned with how it would impact her life, nor was she in a rush to have reconstruction surgery," says King, whose mother was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 50. “But, as I always tell other women, nothing is ever as important as your health. You can walk around happily with your implants or you can lay in your grave with your 'real' ones.  The choice is yours.”

TELL US: Do you know someone who has been diagnosed with breast cancer at an early age? If so, what was the cause? Tell us in the comments below.

Resident January 05, 2013 at 03:11 PM
A number of studies suggest that current use of oral contraceptives (birth control pills) appears to slightly increase the risk of breast cancer, especially among younger women. Findings indicate that you must discontinue use of the pill for at least 10 years in order for your cancer risk level to return to normal. An analysis of epidemiologic data from more than 50 studies worldwide by the Collaborative Group on Hormonal Factors in Breast Cancer found that women who were current or recent users of birth control pills had a slightly higher risk of developing breast cancer than women who had never used the pill. The risk was highest for women who started using oral contraceptives as teenagers. We must save lives by doing the research on the connection between breast cancer and birth control pills and getting this information out into our mainstream communications!

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