10 Things Young Women Should Know About Breast Cancer

Breast Cancer in Women Under 40
Approximately 12,000 women under the age of 40 will be diagnosed with breast cancer each year, accounting for less than 5% of all breast cancer cases, and it is the most common cancer in women in this age group.

Over the course of a woman’s lifetime, 1 in 8 women are at risk of developing breast cancer. Regardless of your age, you need to be aware of the risk factors. In many cases of breast cancer, early diagnosis is the key to survival.

This slideshow will tell you 10 things every young woman should know about breast cancer.

What is breast cancer?
Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the United States and the second leading cause of cancer death among women. (Lung cancer still causes four times as many deaths in women each year as breast cancer.) Breast cancer also rarely occurs in men. About 230,000 new cases of breast cancer are diagnosed in women and about 2,300 new cases are diagnosed in men each year in the United States.

To understand breast cancer, it is important to understand the anatomy of the breast. The majority of the breast is made up of fatty (adipose) tissue with ligaments, connective tissue, lymphatic vessels and knots, and blood vessels. A woman’s breast has 12-20 sections, called lobules, each of which is made up of smaller lobules that produce milk. The lobules and lobules are connected by ducts, which carry milk to the nipple.

The most common type of breast cancer is ductal carcinoma, called ductal carcinoma, which accounts for more than 80% of all breast cancers. Carcinoma of the lobules (lobular carcinoma) accounts for just over 10% of all breast cancers. The rest of breast cancers have both ductal and lobular characteristics or are of unknown origin.

Know Your Breasts
Although women under the age of 40 account for less than 5% of diagnosed breast cancer cases, breast cancer is the leading cause of death in young women aged 15-34. It’s important to know your breasts. Know how they feel and, if you choose, have your doctor teach you how to perform a proper breast self-exam to help you notice when there are changes that require a doctor’s examination.

2) Understand the risk factors
Young women may have a higher risk of developing breast cancer with the following risk factors.

Certain genetic mutations of breast cancer (BRCA1 and/or BRCA2).
A personal history of breast cancer before age 40
Two or more first-degree relatives (mother, sister, daughter) diagnosed with breast cancer at an early stage.
High dose radiation to the chest
Menarche (before age 12)
First full-term pregnancy over 30 years old.
Dense breasts
Sedentary Lifestyle
High intake of red meat and poor eating habits
Ethnicity (higher risk for Caucasian women)
Personal history of endometrial, ovarian, or colorectal cancer.
Recent use of oral contraceptives

3. breast changes to be aware of
Pay attention to changes in your breasts and see your doctor if you notice any of the following.

A lump in or near the breast or a lump under the arm.
Changes in the size or shape of the breast
Depressions, wrinkles, or bulges in the skin.
Change in nipple position or nipple inversion (pushing inward instead of outward).
Redness, pain, and rash of the skin.
Nipple discharge (may be watery, milky or yellow fluid, or blood)
Normal breast tissue may have lumps, which is why it is important to know how your breasts usually feel. Most lumps are not cancerous. Many women choose to have a breast self-exam so they will know if a new lump has appeared or if the size of an existing lump has changed. However, a breast self-exam is not a substitute for a mammogram.

These changes do not necessarily indicate that you have breast cancer, but they can and should be evaluated.

4 Be persistent and speak up
Be your own health advocate and make sure to mention any breast changes or lumps to your doctor. Some patients’ concerns are overlooked because they are “too young” to have breast cancer. If you feel anything, seek answers. Don’t be afraid to get a second opinion and more information.

5 Finding the Right Doctor
If you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer, it’s important to find the right medical team to work with you. It may be tempting to stick with your first doctor, but it’s best to get a second opinion and make sure you’re seeing the right specialist for your type of cancer. You may see several different types of oncologists (cancer specialists), including medical, surgical, and radiation oncologists. The medical specialist you see should be well-versed in all new treatments and approaches, including genetics and neoadjuvant therapy (chemotherapy prior to surgery). Make sure your doctor is aware of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) treatment guidelines, which are considered the gold standard for determining treatment based on the stage of the disease and prognostic factors of the tumor. You may also need a care manager or case worker to help you on your journey.

6. know your medical history
It is important to know your family history and share it with your doctor. Women who have a first-degree relative (mother, sister, daughter) with breast cancer have almost twice the risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer as women with no family history. Tell your doctor which family members have had breast cancer or other breast disease and their age at the time of diagnosis.

Both physicians review and discuss the patient’s test results.
7 Seeking a second opinion
Most doctors will recommend getting a second opinion, and even if they don’t, it’s always a good idea. Most insurance will cover it. It’s important to find a breast cancer specialist who is up to date on the latest treatments and can help you make the best decision on how to proceed. You can discuss your diagnosis with another pathologist who can review your breast tissue slides and confirm the diagnosis, or with another medical oncologist, surgical oncologist, or radiation oncologist to determine the best treatment options.

8 Know that it is okay to ask questions
Ask questions You should be actively involved in your care. Your medical team should explain any medical terms you do not understand, your treatment options, possible side effects, and expected outcomes. Consult with other specialists so that you can learn more about breast cancer. If you haven’t been diagnosed with breast cancer but are in a high-risk group, ask your doctor about testing and any preventative measures you can take.

Also, don’t be afraid to reach out to family and friends for support. Find a support group of people who are going through or have gone through the same thing as you. Bring a close friend or family member with you to your doctor’s appointment, both to take notes or record your visit and to encourage you to ask for clarification if you are unclear. Express your feelings and concerns.

9 Do some research.
If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer, learn about your specific diagnosis. Learn what terms like stage and grade mean and how they affect your treatment options.

Helpful Resources.

Youth Survival Alliance
Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered (FORCE), serving women at higher risk of developing cancer.
NCCN.org – A breast cancer guide for patients. 10.

10 Connecting with other young women
Being diagnosed with breast cancer at a young age can feel isolating, but there is support, and it can be helpful to talk to other women your age who are going through what you are going through, or who have already beaten breast cancer. You can start by asking your doctor about any local support groups. In addition, you can find support groups by searching online.

Some resources for finding a support group include

National Cancer Institute’s Cancer Information Service (1-800-4-CANCER; 1-800-422-6237).
Local chapters of the American Cancer Society
Susan G. Komen for the Cure Local Chapter.

Breast Cancer Prevention for Young Women
If you are a young woman, there are some risk factors for breast cancer that you can avoid.

Don’t smoke.
Exercise regularly
Eat a healthy diet, with plant-based foods.
Limit consumption of red meat and processed meats.
Maintain a healthy weight.
Limit or avoid alcohol consumption
Whenever possible, avoid shift work, especially night work.
Changing your lifestyle and habits may not completely prevent you from getting cancer, but it can reduce your risk, especially if you already have some unavoidable risk factors, such as a genetic history.