Friday, August 7, 2009

Cases of breast cancer among younger women rising

By Deb Kirkland, RN, BSN, MPH
Nurse Navigator, Herman & Walter Samuelson Breast Center at Northwest Hospital

This year over 200,000 women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer, and of those 11,000 will be under the age of 40. This accounts for 5 percent of the breast cancer population. More cases are being seen in younger women; we don’t know if women are actually developing the disease younger, or if due to awareness, we are detecting it earlier. Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in women aged 15 to 54…and yes…I said 15!

The key message to any woman, regardless of age, if you are not doing formal breast self exams, at least feel your breasts, know your breasts, be your own advocate and follow up with any changes. Since it is not as common in this population, younger women may be dismissed due to their age, therefore diagnosed at a later stage. Screening is also problematic, as there are no effective diagnostic screening tools for younger women. Their breasts tend to be dense, making it difficult to detect cancer on a mammogram. Eighty percent of younger women palpate their own lumps, or it is found by their significant other. By the time a lump can be felt in a younger woman, it is often large enough and advanced enough to lower chances of survival.

For young women with a higher risk, such as a family history or carrying breast cancer gene, breast MRIs are suggested for higher surveillance. If you have a first degree relative who was diagnosed with breast cancer at a young age, screening is recommended 10 years prior to the age of their diagnosis. Always remember, as with any cancer, early detection is key! If you would like more information on younger women and breast cancer, visit The Young Survival Coalition is a resourceful national advocacy group for women under 40 with breast cancer.

LifeBridge Health’s Breast Friends program provides support and education to young women diagnosed with breast cancer locally, as well as, provides education and outreach to young women and African American women in the community. If you are a young survivor and would like to learn more about Breast Friends, please contact Deb Kirkland at dkirklan (at) or call 410-521-8831.

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