Younger women usually don’t think about getting breast cancer. After all, under 7% of all breast cancer cases happen in women under 40. But it can happen at any age, and it’s important to be aware of your risk factors, regardless of your age.
When Elizabeth Edwards announced in March that her breast cancer had returned, her peers -- other breast cancer survivors -- expressed a range of emotions. Topping the list was empathy for Edwards, whose cancer had spread to her bones. There was also pride in her bravery: She chose to be open and honest about an intensely personal health issue. Others found themselves reliving their own diagnoses. And, of course, many could not help but give way to gnawing worry about their own health. Edwards' announcement...
What Is Different About Breast Cancer in Younger Women?
Diagnosing breast cancer in women under 40 years old is more difficult, because their breast tissue is generally denser than in older women. By the time a lump in a younger woman's breast can be felt, the cancer may be advanced.
In addition, breast cancer in younger women can be aggressive and less likely to respond to treatment. Women who are diagnosed at a younger age also are more likely to have a mutated BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene.
Delays in diagnosing breast cancer can cause problems. Many younger women ignore the warning signs -- such as a breast lump or unusual nipple discharge -- because they believe they’re too young to get breast cancer. They may assume a lump is a harmless cyst or other growth. Some doctors may also dismiss breast lumps in young women as cysts.
Should Women Under Age 40 Get Mammograms?
In general, regular mammograms aren’t recommended for women under 40 years of age, in part because breast tissue tends to be dense, making mammograms less effective. In 2015, the American Cancer Society actually raised its recommended age for a mammogram to 45. Most experts believe the low risk at that age doesn’t justify the exposure to radiation or the cost of mammography. But mammograms may be recommended for younger women with a family history of breast cancer and other risk factors.