Young Women and Breast Cancer

Young Women and Breast Cancer

Young women provide a special challenge when it comes to breast health. Younger women, under the age of 40, are less likely to develop breast cancer. That’s very encouraging. Unfortunately, IF a young woman falls into the rare category of developing breast cancer, she runs the risk of having a more aggressive form. Younger women tend to have tumors which are larger, at a more advanced stage and with less favorable biology. Doctors and researchers are uncertain of the reasons for the more aggressive tumors in younger women. Combine the worrisome tumor profile with the difficulty of imaging for younger women, and what you have is a need for extra vigilance in breast care at a time when women are feeling most invincible. So… what should we do?

  • First, never assume a persistent (one that stays around for longer than a month) breast change is “nothing” and don’t let anyone tell you you are too young to be worried about your breasts! If you have an area of concern, see your doctor. Ask for a breast ultrasound if you are still concerned.
  • While young women are generally at low-risk for breast cancer, there will be young patients at higher-risk (like women with a family history of breast cancer or women who have had chest radiation at a young age). Some high-risk young women will benefit from screening, either with mammography, MRI or both, depending on age and degree of risk.
  • Anyone, any age, can do a monthly self-exam.
  • Annual clinical exams are important – insist upon them when you go in for your annual check-up.
  • There are things you can do to reduce your own risk (Dr. Harrison talked about that the other day).

To sum this up, young women’s breast health is important too! While chances of breast cancer are slim, the possibility of more aggressive tumors in our younger patients is concerning. We need more research to help figure out why there is a difference and how best to treat our young patients with the least harm. In the meantime, be proactive in your breast care and share this information with your friends – young ones too. P.S. For additional resources, did you notice that we love the Young Survival Coalition …? This is a fabulous organization of support and hope for young women affected by breast cancer!




Image credit: young and old by Raul Lieberwirth via Flickr; Copyright Creative Commons  Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Originally published 9/13/13 on