This month is Young Survivor’s Month at I’m Taking Charge. We’re starting things off by looking at statistics related to young women and breast cancer. Because knowledge is power. The more you know, the more you’ll be prepared for the ride.
Breast cancer among women under the age of 40 is rare. So if you haven’t figured it out already, you might have a hard time finding a support group with women who share your same concerns and challenges (don’t lose hope though, because we have some ideas for you below). Komen cites statistics from the American Cancer Society that show the risk of developing breast cancer at the age of 20 is roughly 0.06 percent among women in the United States. This increases to 0.4 percent by age 30 and 1.5 percent by age 40.
Meanwhile, the Young Survival Coalition reports that roughly 70,000 men and women between the ages of 15 and 39 are diagnosed with cancer each year. Among women in this age group, breast cancer is the most common cancer.
Despite the rarity of breast cancer among young women, the disease is often much more impactful. Young women with breast cancer have a higher risk of recurrence and higher mortality rates. When breast cancer does recur in young women, there is a higher chance it will be metastasized.
Startling Statistics on Breast Cancer in Younger Women
Young women experience breast cancer differently. This doesn’t mean their experience is better or worse than older women. It simply means it’s different.
Based on statistics from the American Cancer Society, roughly 230,000 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with invasive breast cancer every year. An additional 60,000 cases of in situ breast cancer are diagnosed. In situ breast cancer is noninvasive and is the earliest form of breast cancer. Among these cases, around 12,000 are women under the age of 40 and roughly 26,000 are women under the age of 45. These statistics provide further proof of the dramatic difference between breast cancer rates in women below 40 and those over 40.
In terms of how breast cancer affects younger women, specifically, estimates state that over 1,000 women below the age of 40 die from breast cancer every year. Roughly 80 percent of young women with breast cancer find a breast abnormality themselves. And around 30 percent of all breast cancer cases in young women occur within a few years of having a baby.
Not only that, but young women are more likely to develop aggressive breast cancers. An increasing number of studies show that breast cancer before the age of 40 is biologically different from cancer in older women. Further, the number of young women diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer at their initial diagnosis is increasing.
But what is causing these worrisome numbers?
Challenges Facing Young Women
Women below the age of 40 face unique challenges that most older women do not worry about.
One of the primary reasons younger women with breast cancer have higher mortality rates is that they do not have access to effective early screening tools. For many women, mammograms and self-exams are capable of finding breast cancer early on. This early detection improves their chance of survival. Unfortunately, younger women tend to have denser breasts. This makes mammograms and other screening tools less effective.
We’ve discussed this issue in a previous article, as well.
For young African American women, this challenge is often magnified. African American women below the age of 35 are diagnosed with breast cancer two times as often as caucasian women. They are three times as likely to die from breast cancer and are more likely than anyone else to develop aggressive breast cancer. We also have some previous posts that focus on the unique challenges facing African American women.
Challenges After Breast Cancer Diagnosis
Once young women are diagnosed with breast cancer, they face several additional challenges related to treatment and their post-cancer lives. According to the Young Survival Coalition, these challenges include:
- Possible sexual dysfunction and early menopause following breast cancer treatment
- Problems with a woman’s ability to have children
- Increases concerns about body images
- Higher rates of psychosocial issues after breast cancer, including depression
- Difficulties with financial stability due to insufficient health insurance, high cost of cancer care, and workplace issues
To learn about more facts and statistics about young women and breast cancer, feel free to check here.
There is Always Hope
Even though breast cancer can be more impactful among young women, you can still fight to change the statistics.
This is part of what the Young Survival Coalition (YSC) works toward. YSC was established by three women who were under the age of 35 when they were diagnosed with breast cancer. Their experience with a lack of resources designed for their unique needs and challenges led to the creation of the organization.
The organization provides connections, resources, and outreach opportunities to young women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer. In doing so, it helps women feel empowered and supported while increasing their feelings of hope for the future.
Recognizing that education is one of the most important ways you can fight back, YSC maintains a valuable resource about understanding breast cancer treatment. The article discusses everything from selecting and communicating with your healthcare team to the types of breast cancer treatment and understanding your pathology results. It also discusses breast reconstruction, along with ways for you to recover and return to normal after your breast cancer treatment.
Further, advancing technology means there may soon be better screening options for younger women. Already scientists have been working on developing 3D mammograms. These new mammograms are not yet available everywhere. But they are designed to help radiologists view denser breasts with more accuracy.
In addition to that, new clinical trials are routinely finding ways to better treat breast cancer among young women. If you’ve been diagnosed, you might find that entering into a clinical trial will be more helpful than traditional treatment options. Even if you do not opt for developing treatment options, this continued research means treatment is only getting better.