Breast Cancer Under Age 40: What You Might not Know, and How You Could Help

BlogHer Original Post

Although the percentage of women diagnosed with breast cancer under the age of 40 is much lower (only about 7%) than the overall rates of breast cancer diagnosis, sadly, these cancers are often not found in their early stages and can prove to be much harder to treat.  One reason these early onset cancers are more difficult to diagnosis is because the breast tissue of younger women is generally more dense than that of women over the age of 40.  There is also sometimes a "denial" aspect to the early diagnosis of breast cancer in younger women.  It seems that many younger women ignore some of the early warning signs, unknowingly believing that they are too young to have cancer.  For these reasons, diagnosis is often not made in the early stages of the disease (when treatment is much more likely to be successful), but rather in later stages that often prove to be more difficult to treat successfully.

In recent years the guidelines for when a woman should have their first mammogram has fluctuated quite a bit, making it even more confusing for young women to make informed decisions about their personal breast health.  Below are some guidelines that young women can use in screening for breast cancer.

From WebMD - Breast Caner in Young Women...

What's the Best Way for Younger Women to Screen for Breast Cancer?

The American Cancer Society (ACS) says that breast self-exams are optional for women starting in their 20s. Doctors should discuss the benefits and limitations of breast self-exam with their patients.

Regular clinical breast exams performed at least every three years by your doctor are recommended for women beginning at age 20. The ACS also recommends annual screening mammograms starting at age 40. However, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) does not recommend routine screening for women in their 40s -- When you need a mammogram is a personal decision between you and your doctor. If you're over 40, talk to you doctor about when you should begin mammogram screening. Women younger than 40 who have a family history or other risk factors for breast cancer should discuss their risk and an appropriate screening schedule with their health care providers.

But even though breast density and later diagnosis is contributing to the problems facing women under 40 who develop breast cancer, it does seem like there must be another component to why these women seem to be more likely to develop aggressive forms of the disease.  That's what a large scale study being done at the Washington University School of Medicine, hopes to find out....AND YOU COULD HELP THEM.  This is from the Army of Women Blog -- Call To Action:  Why Do Young Women Get Breast Cancer?

Why do young women get breast cancer? And why are they more likely than older women to get an aggressive form of the disease? Might genetics play a role? That’s what a research team at the Washington University School of Medicine is trying to find out. If we can find out WHY some women might be more susceptible to getting breast cancer early, it could help women and doctors learn how to prevent it.

This is how YOU can get involved with the study...

The Love/Avon Army of Women is now recruiting for the Breast Cancer Risk in Young Women Study.  Women in the US and Canada who were diagnosed with invasive breast cancer at age 40 or younger will be asked to provide a blood sample via a mailed kit to investigate what genetic factors may play a role in the development of breast cancer in young women.

How do I sign up for the Breast Cancer Risk in Young Women Study?

Step 1: Register with the Army of Women by visiting:  www.armyofwomen.org/getinvolved
Step 2: Sign up for the Breast Cancer Risk in Young Women Study by visiting the study page on the Army of Women website: http://www.armyofwomen.org/current/view?grant_id=356

By registering with the Army of Women, you will be added to our database and continue to be alerted via email of new and innovative research studies that you can take part in.  Don't wait, sign up today!

More about the Army of Women --

The Love/Avon Army of Women, a groundbreaking initiative launched in October 2008 by the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation and the Avon Foundation, is recruiting one million women nationwide to help researchers learn what causes breast cancer and move beyond a cure to prevention.  Volunteers sign up and get an email alert every time a new study is seeking volunteers (two to four times a month).  You get to decide which one you fit and/or are comfortable participating in. Some studies are as simple as an online questionnaire while others involve giving blood, spit or even tissue samples. And if you don't fit the study, you can pass it on to everyone you know. The Army of Women has amazed the scientific community by their ability to recruit participants from across the country and world, rapidly saving years of effort and lots of money.   Every woman over 18 is welcome to participate, whether a breast cancer survivor or someone never diagnosed.  We have over 356,000 women already signed up, and are still eager to reach our goal of ONE MILLION women.  All women are encouraged to be "one in a million" by learning more and signing up at www.armyofwomen.org.

But breast cancer is not only about diagnosis, and treatment, and studies, and statistics -- It's about real people with individual stories of dealing with a life-threatening diagnosis.  It's about every human emotion; from fear & grief, to hope & triumph.  Each story is different and personal, you may even have one yourself.  Here is just one of those stories...

This is a video from Catherine Brunelle at Bumpy Boobs

My name is Catherine, I’m 27 years old, and I have breast cancer – newly diagnosed. At first I thought, ‘maybe it’s a cyst, maybe it’s a nothing’, but then it became breast cancer. In any case, thank goodness for all that breast cancer awareness promotion, because it gave me the courage to immediately visit my GP and ask – what the hell is this bump in my boob?! And look: now I have a breast cancer blog, so there’s the start of my writing career (though not quite as I imagined!).

If you have a personal story about being under 40 and being diagnosed with breast cancer, please share it with us in comments.

For more information about Breast Cancer:

Contributing Editor Catherine Morgan
Also at Catherine-Morgan.com

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