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Christina Applegate Seeks Early Detection for Breast Cancer

Inspired by her own battle with cancer, the actress fights to help young women at high risk for the disease.

3 Things Women Need to Know About Breast Cancer

This year, about 10,000 women younger than 40 will be diagnosed with breast cancer. Because of a lack of awareness about the disease in young women, many will be diagnosed in later stages than women who get breast cancer in their 50s and 60s. If you're under 40, what do you need to know about breast cancer right now? Here's some advice straight from Christina Applegate and her doctor, Philomena McAndrew, MD:

Know your breasts. Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in young women ages 15 to 54. Talk to your doctor about the pros and cons of breast self-exams. If you choose to do them, your doctor can review the techniques with you. (For WebMD.com's online guide, search "breast self-exam.") If you know how your breasts "should" look and feel, you'll know when there's a significant change that means you should call your doctor.

Be persistent. If you think you feel "something," and family or doctors dismiss your concerns because you're "too young for breast cancer," it might be tempting to believe them and not seek further answers. But you have to be your own advocate, says McAndrew. "The youngest patient I've seen was 18 when she felt the mass, and 22 when she was found to have stage IV breast cancer. She kept telling doctors she felt something and was worried about it, but they dismissed it because she was 'too young.'"

Doc shop. Don't automatically go with the first doctor you consult. And yes, you have time. "Most breast cancers are not like other cancers, where you have to start treatment immediately," says McAndrew. "You want a treatment team you're comfortable with and that is aware of all the newer approaches, such as genetics, neoadjuvant therapy [chemotherapy before surgery], and looking at molecular markers of your tumor to figure out your individual risk." Good online sources for information, recommended by Applegate and McAndrew, include breastcancer.org, the Young Survival Coalition (youngsurvival.org), and FORCE: Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered (www.facingourrisk.org).

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Reviewed on October 06, 2010

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