Breast Cancer in Young Women
There Isn’t Just One Face to Breast Cancer
“Breast cancer doesn’t just happen to someone that’s 75 years old,” says breast cancer survivor Charity. When she was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 27, she made a series of decisions to be proactive about her health.
“You need to take your health seriously. Talk to your doctor. There isn’t just one face to breast cancer.”
Most breast cancers are found in women who are 50 years old or older, but breast cancer also affects younger women. About 10% of all new cases of breast cancer in the United States are found in women younger than 45 years of age. Knowing your risk of breast cancer can empower you to take action to manage it.
Who Has a Higher Risk?
Some young women are at a higher risk for getting breast cancer at an early age compared with other women their age. If you are a woman under age 45, you may have a higher risk if you have—
- Close relatives who were diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer when they were younger than 45, especially if more than one relative was diagnosed or if a male relative had breast cancer.
- Changes in your BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes, or close relatives with these changes.
- An Ashkenazi Jewish heritage.
- Been treated with radiation therapy to the breast or chest during childhood or early adulthood.
- Had breast cancer or certain other breast health problems.
- Been told that you have dense breasts on a mammogram.
What Can I Do to Lower My Risk?
It is important that you—
- Know how your breasts normally look and feel. If you notice a change in the size or shape of your breast, feel pain in your breast, have nipple discharge other than breast milk (including blood), or other symptoms, talk to a doctor right away.
- Make healthy choices. Keeping a healthy weight, getting enough physical activity and sleep, and breastfeeding your babies can help lower your overall risk. If you are taking, or have been told to take, hormone replacement therapy or oral contraceptives (birth control pills), ask your doctor about the risks.
- Talk to your doctor about your risk. If your risk is high, your doctor may talk to you about getting mammograms earlier and more often than other women, whether other screening tests might be right for you, and medicines or surgeries that can lower your risk. Your doctor may also suggest that you get genetic counseling to determine if you should be tested for changes in your BRCA1, BRCA2, and other genes related to breast cancer.