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Breast Cancer in Young Women: Resources on the North Shore

Breast cancer isn't age specific. Here's how to cope with treatments and augmentations if you are diagnosed earlier in life.

Generally speaking, an American woman in her 30s has a one in 232 chance of getting the disease, and a woman 20 years her senior has a one in 42 probability, according to komen.org.

“Although we aren’t certain, the cause of breast cancer in younger women is likely caused by a genetic predisposition,” says Ann H. Partridge, M.D., M.P.H., the medical oncologist director of the Adult Survivorship Program at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

While breast cancer treatment in young women is often effective, the chance of recovery tends to be worse in women under 40. Breast tissue is often denser in younger women, making cancer harder to detect initially.

This is why many younger women are diagnosed at later stages with more aggressive tumors. These factors all contribute to an increased need for stronger treatments, says Partridge.

Unfortunately, some of these therapies have side effects that hit younger women in different and sometimes more difficult ways than their older counterparts.

At the time of diagnosis, many young women are in the midst of building careers, getting married and starting families. A major concern for young women with breast cancer is loss of fertility. Both chemo and hormone therapies can damage the ovaries, causing irregular periods or a menopausal transition. 

For women in their 20s and 30s who continue to have their periods after chemotherapy, the ability to have children is still possible. Women who may want to become a parent after breast cancer should speak with their doctor about their options before choosing a treatment.

These local hospitals and offices specialize in mammograms and breast cancer treatment:

  • The Kellogg Cancer Center of the NorthShore University Health System has locations at Evanston Hospital and can be contacted at 847-570-2475; at Glenbrook Hopsital in Glenview and can be reached at 847-657-5879; and at the Highland Park Hospital at 847-480-3744.
  • Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital offers Breast Imaging Centers at six locations across Lake and Cook Counties including in Glenview, Deerfield and Lake Forest and can be reached at 847-535-8000.
  • The Breast Center at Saint Francis Hospital can be reached at 847-316-6500.
  • The Lake and Cook County Departments of Public Health participate in the Illinois Breast and Cervical Cancer Program through the Illinois Department of Health. The Women's Health line is 888-522-1282.

Those who are diagnosed after starting families also face unique challenges.

“It was difficult being 25 years old and finding out I had breast cancer, but it was even harder to figure out how to explain what was going on to my four-year-old son,” says Crystal King, an eight-year survivor and the manager of multicultural marketing for Susan G. Komen for the Cure Circle of Promise.

Another source of distress among young women with breast cancer is the way their appearance will be affected by treatments. Healthy or not, a woman's happiness with her breast size and shape can have an impact on her overall body image. 

More than 307,000 breast implant augmentation surgeries were performed in 2011. This is just an example of women looking to their breasts for a confidence boost—and young women facing breast cancer are no exception.

The under-40 demographic tends to have greater emotional distress over how cancer treatments will affect their appearance than their older counterparts.

King had just gotten engaged a few months prior to her diagnosis, and was “a bit upset by the thought of a mastectomy.”  

“My mother was not at all concerned with how it would impact her life, nor was she in a rush to have reconstruction surgery," says King, whose mother was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 50. “But, as I always tell other women, nothing is ever as important as your health. You can walk around happily with your implants or you can lay in your grave with your 'real' ones.  The choice is yours.”

TELL US: Do you know someone who has been diagnosed with breast cancer at an early age? If so, what was the cause? Tell us in the comments below. 

Kristyn Friske October 23, 2012 at 08:45 PM
Regardless of the age of diagnosis, a wonderful resource for recently diagnosed breast cancer patients is a book that will empower women by helping them know what questions they should be asking their specialists, helping them keep all of their medical records organized, and helping them manage their entire journey from diagnosis to recovery. Diagnosis: Breast Cancer by Cara Novy-Bennewitz. http://www.amazon.com/Diagnosis-Breast-Cancer-Navigating-Journey/dp/1935766171/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1351025100&sr=8-1&keywords=diagnosis+breast+cancer
Michelleey October 24, 2012 at 12:18 AM
I am a 27 year female diagnosed with DCIS. I had cancer on my left breast and I voluntarily went with a double mastectomy. It wasn't a tough decision because I knew I didn't want to deal with a recurrence later in life. I was lucky to not go through chemo or radiation as a result of my aggressive surgery. It has been nine months and I now have my implants. I am happier, relieved and life has resumed normal for most part. I am so thankful for my ob gyn Dr. Luba Soskin for helping me detect the tiny bump. I am forever grateful for her saving my life.
Emily Stone (Editor) October 24, 2012 at 12:58 PM
Thank you for sharing your story, Michelleey.
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