It would be hard to find someone who hasn’t had a family member or friend touched by breast cancer. Personally, I have lost my mother three years ago and a friend I had known since high school a few years prior to that. I also have two girlfriends fighting stage 4 breast cancer (secondary cancer or more precise, metastatic breast cancer). The scary thing is three out of the four women I know/knew with cancer were under forty when they were first diagnosed.
According to first-of-its-kind research from a study about breast cancer in young women aged 20-39 years from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), reveal that 795 women aged 20-39 years are expected to be diagnosed with breast cancer this year, and one woman aged 20 -39 will die from breast cancer every week.
The report shows that while the number of young women being diagnosed has reduced, women in their 20s and 30s have less chance of survival than older women, as the cancer is often more aggressive.
‘When looking at breast cancer in young women, we see a higher proportion of very large breast cancers (>=50mm) diagnosed (8%) than in older women (6%). Very large breast cancers are associated with lower survival than small breast cancers (<15mm)’ Mr Harvey said.
However, even for small breast cancers—which tend to be associated with more treatment options and improved survival—young women have lower survival (93%) than women aged 40 and over (99%).
Cancer Australia CEO Professor Helen Zorbas has welcomed today’s report, saying ‘Although the number of young women diagnosed with breast cancer has increased over time, the incidence rate has remained stable over the past three decades’.
Women in their 20’s and 30’s also have careers, a busy lifestyle and maybe a family to look after and usually by the time something is found, the size of the cancer itself is in the large category, which is harder to treat. Especially if the cancer has been left too long and has spread to areas such as the lymph nodes.
‘These young women are at a life stage in which they are building careers, establishing relationships and planning for a family. Issues such as infertility, early menopause and body image as well as time away from work and family can have a substantial impact, with long term physical, psychological and social effects’.
Younger women diagnosed can also experience feelings of isolation, as there are not as many people going through the same experience, as well as early menopause and infertility from treatment. These issues often impact the rest of their lives.
Unfortunately, mammograms do not work well at detecting cancer in younger breasts, so the best method of early detection of breast cancer in young women is through breast awareness. Cancer Australia is calling on young women to familiarise themselves with their breasts and to know when there is a change that doesn’t seem right, such as shape, size, lumpiness, nipple changes, redness/dimpling on breast or unusual pain. You can also find out more information on how to check your breast at facebook.com/NBOCCCheekyCheckUp
With the release of these findings, we hope more funding will be put towards research into finding a cure for breast cancer or the very least, a vaccine. We would also hope that breast checks for women of all ages will become compulsory when having a pap smear.
Were you surprised by the findings in the report? Do you think more should be done to make younger women that breast cancer can and does happen to them?