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Breast Cancer in Young Women

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Should Women Under Age 40 Get Mammograms?

In general, regular mammograms are not recommended for women under 40 years old, in part because breast tissue tends to be more dense in young women, making mammograms less effective as a screening tool. In addition, most experts believe the low risk of developing breast cancer at a young age does not justify the radiation exposure or the cost of mammography. However, screening mammograms may be recommended for younger women with a family history of breast cancer and other risk factors.

Digital mammography may be a useful alternate to a standard mammogram, as digital mammography is more sensitive in detecting abnormalities in the presence of dense breast tissue.

What's the Best Way for Younger Women to Screen for Breast Cancer?

The American Cancer Society (ACS) says that breast self-exams are optional for women starting in their 20s. Doctors should discuss the benefits and limitations of breast self-exam with their patients.

Regular clinical breast exams performed at least every three years by your doctor are recommended for women beginning at age 20. The ACS also recommends annual screening mammograms starting at age 40. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), on the other hand, does not recommend routine screening for women in their 40s. For women between the ages of 50 and 74, USPSTF experts say, women should have screening mammograms every two years and none after age 74. 

When you need a mammogram is a personal decision between you and your doctor. If you're over 40, talk to your doctor about when you should begin mammogram screening. Women younger than 40 who have a family history or other risk factors for breast cancer should discuss their risk and an appropriate screening schedule with their health care providers.

How Is Breast Cancer Treated In Younger Women?

The course of treatment for breast cancer at any age is based on the extent of the person's disease (whether or not it has spread beyond the breast), as well as the woman's general health and personal circumstances.

Treatment options include surgery: either a lumpectomy, which involves removing the lump and some surrounding tissue, or a mastectomy, which is the removal of a breast.

Radiation therapy is generally used following a lumpectomy, and chemotherapy and/or hormone therapy often are recommended after surgery to help destroy any remaining cancer cells and prevent recurrence.

Breast cancer poses other challenges for younger women, as well, such as sexuality, fertility, and pregnancy after breast cancer treatment.

 

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WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Arnold Wax, MD on June 26, 2012
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