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Breast Cancer Health Center

Advanced Breast Cancer Rising in Young Women?

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The findings are not a reason to change current mammography screening guidelines, Johnson added. Many organizations recommend routine screenings beginning at age 40, although the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force now recommends routine mammogram screenings need not begin until age 50.

The finding does stress the importance of younger women being aware of breast changes and the importance of seeking medical attention when they find such changes, she said.

For the study, Johnson and her team looked at data from the U.S. National Cancer Institute Registry.

The researchers looked at information about whether the cancer was localized or had spread to organs, bones, brains or the lungs. The increase was found among all races and ethnicities from 1992 (when that data was first available) onward.

Johnson began the research when she noticed she was hearing from friends and other sources about how many more younger women were being diagnosed with late-stage breast cancer.

Other studies should be done, she said, to verify what she has found.

Other cancer experts urged caution when interpreting the study results.

"It's an interesting finding and an important finding, but it has to be put into perspective," said Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society. The increasing trend of advanced breast cancer in younger women has been consistent over time, he noted.

He acknowledged that a diagnosis of advanced breast cancer at any age can be devastating. But experts need to continue to monitor the trend of advanced breast cancers in younger women, he added.

Dr. Courtney Vito, a staff surgeon of general oncologic surgery at the City of Hope Comprehensive Cancer Center in Duarte, Calif., agreed. "The number of women [aged] 25 to 39 presenting with advanced breast cancer or any kind [of breast cancer] still remains relatively low, especially compared to women 40 and older," she said.

Lichtenfeld said the finding "emphasizes the importance of breast self-awareness, that no one knows your body better than you do."

Some younger women with symptoms may be dismissed by the doctor who sees them, Vito said. "It is not unusual for a woman who is 25 to 39 with a breast lump to have sought consultation with multiple doctors before getting an appropriate work-up," she said.

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