Why Young Women Need to Pay More Attention to their Health
Young women need to understand their risk for breast cancer so they can make the best choices about their health. The average age of diagnosis for breast cancer is 62, but many cases are not diagnosed until much later in life. There are additional risk factors for young women that may be more important than family history. Understanding these risk factors and the biology of breast cancer in younger women is key to better care.
The average age of diagnosis for breast cancer is 62.
According to the American Cancer Society, the average age of diagnosis for breast cancer is 62. Breast cancer is common in women and represents a significant amount of cancers in both men and women. In fact, it's the second most common cause of cancer death among all cancers.
The second most common cause of mortality for men and women under 40? Motor vehicle accidents.
Young women may experience more aggressive tumors and more advanced stages at diagnosis.
Although triple-negative breast cancer is rare in all women, it is twice as common in young adults. It is also more likely to have lymph node involvement and distant metastases, which can be fatal if left untreated.
Most breast cancers in young women are not related to family history.
It's important to note that the majority of young women who develop breast cancer have no family history of the disease. However, family history is still an important part of your overall cancer screening plan. Understanding your family history can help guide genetic testing and treatment options if you or your relatives are diagnosed with BRCA-related cancers. Most importantly, knowing your risk factors—and taking steps to reduce them—can help keep you safe from all types of cancer (including breast).
You're at a higher risk for developing breast cancer than older women because:
Your ovaries produce estrogen until menopause begins at about age 50. Estrogen fuels the growth of most tumors in the breast and belly area; if there isn't enough estrogen around, the cells grow more slowly or not at all! Once menopause begins, production stops; hormone replacement therapy can also lower risk by replacing some hormones lost during perimenopause (the years before menopause).
You tend to have less body fat than older women do (which makes it easier for chemicals like estrogen and testosterone to get into cells where they can cause trouble).
There are additional risk factors for young women that may be more important than family history
First and foremost, the risk factors for breast cancer are not as straightforward as you might think. While it's true that a family history of breast cancer puts a woman at greater risk, there are additional factors that can affect your likelihood of developing the disease. For example, race and ethnicity may be more important than we once thought.
Race/ethnicity is one of the most significant risk factors for breast cancer in younger women. African American women have triple the rate of breast cancer diagnoses compared to white women; Latinas have nearly double; Native Americans have almost twice as much. Younger Asian-American women are also more likely to develop invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC) than their older counterparts—and if you're an Asian American woman with IDC between 25-49 years old, then you're five times more likely to die from your diagnosis than someone else who developed IDC at age 70 or older!
Additionally, people from certain ethnicities tend to carry mutations on their BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes (a mutation increases your risk for developing hereditary breast cancer). For example: Ashkenazi Jewish individuals make up about two percent of all U.S., European Americans but account for 30%–40% of all cases involving familial (hereditary) disease according to some estimates."
A family history of breast cancer can still be significant in young women, but it does not mean that all young patients with a positive family history need testing for genetic mutations
Family history is still important in young women, but genetic testing is not for everyone. It’s important to know that a family history of breast cancer can still be significant even if the age of onset was before you were born. However, this does not mean that all young patients with a positive family history need testing for genetic mutations.
Genetic testing can be helpful for some patients who have hereditary cancer syndromes such as Li-Fraumeni syndrome or BRCA mutation carriers and may lead to earlier detection and more effective treatment options than traditional screening methods would provide. But it is not a cure; it cannot prevent all cancers from occurring in those who test positive; and it does not guarantee that a patient won’t develop another type of cancer later in life (colon or prostate) after treatment has been completed successfully on his/her breast cancer diagnosis
Health care providers should always consider whether genetic evaluation is appropriate but this should not determine access to treatment
Genetic evaluation is not the only consideration when making treatment decisions. It should not be a barrier to receiving appropriate care. Genetic testing is not always necessary, accurate, reliable or affordable; hence it is important to weigh all possible risks when considering genetic testing in your medical decision-making process.
Genetic testing can be an expensive and complex process that requires specialized expertise and equipment. This can make it difficult for some people to access this type of care and may prevent them from obtaining information that would otherwise help them make informed decisions about their health care needs and improve their quality of life.
The limited role of screening mammography for women under 40 has changed our management of this population
As a result of the limited role of screening mammography for women under 40, our management of this population has changed. Women in their 20s are now recommended to have a breast exam every year. This is because in younger patients, breast cancer often presents as non-lump imaging findings such as thickening or asymmetry on imaging studies. Unfortunately, this means that young women may not be getting the opportunity to undergo screening mammography until they are older and more likely to have palpable lumps by that time. While these non-lump findings can still lead to some false positives and overdiagnosis, they do reduce the number of missed cancers in this age group which is why it's important for you as a young woman with dense breasts (and/or who has had dense breasts before) take advantage of annual exams as opposed to waiting until you're 40 years old!
Understanding risk factors and the biology of breast cancer in younger women is key to better care
It's important for young women to understand the risk factors and biology of breast cancer in younger women. Young women are more likely to have aggressive tumors and more advanced stages at diagnosis, which can make treatment more difficult. But it’s not just an issue of age; there are other risk factors as well. Young women who start menstruating earlier, who go through menopause later in life or those who have family members with a history of breast cancer may be at higher risk for developing breast cancer themselves. However, many cases of breast cancer occur in young women without any known family history of the disease. While most often thought of as an older woman's disease (1), it is also true that 1 out of every 8 cases of invasive breast carcinoma occurs in patients under 40 years old (2).
Breast cancer is an important disease to understand and prevent, regardless of age. Young women should not be afraid to get screened for breast cancer, but they should also understand the risks and benefits of different screening tests. It is always important to talk with your doctor about what the best options are for you.