Breast Cancer Rates Rising for Young Women
March 4, 2021
From 1987 to 2010, breast cancer rates were on the decline for women under 40-years-old. Although these rates have continued to decline for women between 40 and 79-years-old, a new study published in the medical journal Radiology reports that over the last 11 years, there has been a marked increase in breast cancer cases among women under 40. Although medical professionals generally consider younger women to be lower risk for developing breast cancer than older women, the recent data highlights the importance of increasing preventive efforts in order to reduce growing cancer rates.
Breast Cancers: General Information and Statistics
According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), breast cancer is the most common cancer in American women (with the exclusion of skin cancers). While there are many different types of breast cancers, two of the most common ones are invasive breast cancer (ILC or IDC) and ductal carcinoma in situ, or DCIS. Most simply, in situ breast cancers are cancers that originate in the milk duct and have not yet spread from their site of origin. Invasive breast cancers, like invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC) and invasive lobular carcinoma (ILC), are cancers that have invaded the surrounding breast tissue. The ACS estimates that ILC and IDC account for approximately 70-80% of all breast cancers.
At the time being, there are nearly 4 million breast cancer survivors living in the United States. This includes women who have successfully completed treatment as well as those who are still being treated. While those numbers are hopeful, the ACS still predicts that hundreds of thousands of women will be diagnosed with invasive and in situ breast cancers this year. The organization estimates that there will be 281,550 new cases of invasive breast cancers and 49,290 new cases of ductal carcinoma in situ in 2021. The data also indicates that more than 43,500 women will die from breast cancer during that same period of time.
Researchers primarily credit an increase in awareness, screening, and technological advances in treatment with the decrease in breast cancers in women over 40 – but what about younger patients? Although industry standards recommend that mammograms start for women once they are 40-years old (depending on their medical history and other factors), there are still plenty of steps that patients under 40 and their healthcare providers can take to reduce the chances of receiving a late-stage diagnosis.
Detecting Breast Cancers in Younger Patients
Not all women with breast cancer will experience symptoms, but some do. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), some possible signs and symptoms of breast cancer include:
- New lump in the breast or armpit
- Irritation or dimpling of the breast skin
- Thickening or swelling in an area of the breast
- Pulling in of the nipple or pain/discomfort in the nipple area
- Redness or flaky skin in the nipple area or on the breast
- Nipple discharge other than breast milk, including blood
- Pain in any area of the breast
- Any change in breast shape or size
If you are experiencing any symptoms that you find concerning, talk to your doctor. Most doctors will not order a mammogram or a breast ultrasound for a patient under 40-years-old unless she is high risk for the disease. High-risk patients usually have a genetic mutation or are experiencing physical symptoms, like a mass or another type of potentially problematic breast change (like a change in breast tissue). But the reality is, patients under 40 who are not experiencing pronounced symptoms could still have breast cancer. This is why the CDC’s current recommendation is that younger women talk to their doctor about when to get a breast cancer screening and discuss which screening option may be the best for them.
Here are just a few examples of common types of breast cancer screenings that your doctor may talk to you about depending on your age, risk level, and your personal and family medical history of breast cancers:
- A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast and is generally considered to be the “golden standard” for detecting breast cancers. Doctors may order mammogram screenings for patients as young as 25 to 30-years-old if they have a family history of the disease or an associated genetic mutation
- Breast Magnetic Resonance Imaging, or a breast MRI. If you are a high-risk patient, your doctor may order a breast MRI in conjunction with a mammogram
- Breast self-awareness. This entails familiarizing yourself with the appearance and feel of your breasts. Conducting regular breast self-exams at home can help you to identify changes that you should report to your doctor
- Clinical breast exam. Doctors or nurses perform clinical breast exams by using their hand or hands to feel for lumps or other changes in their patient’s breast tissue
When it comes to invasive and non-invasive breast cancers, early detection and intervention is key. Non-invasive breast cancers can turn into invasive ones if they are not found early, and an invasive cancer can continue to grow and spread into distant parts of the body if it is not identified and treated in time. It is critical that doctors take into account the emerging data on the growing breast cancer rates in younger women when they conduct risk assessments, perform exams and screenings, and order necessary or recommended testing for their patients.
All healthcare workers must maintain a certain standard of care. When a provider is negligent either in performing or omitting something that is considered standard medical care and it causes harm to the patient, it is medical malpractice. Just a few examples of a healthcare provider being negligent include the failure to order proper imaging (like a mammogram or breast ultrasound), misdiagnosing a patient’s breast cancer as something else, and prescribing the wrong treatment (e.g. surgery or medication) for the disease. If you believe you or one of your loved ones is a victim of medical malpractice, someone at our firm can help. To learn more, contact a representative online now.
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