Breast cancer is a bitch no matter what age. But it’s always such a shock when a young person is diagnosed with this insidious disease. Although increasing age is one of the strongest risk factorsof breast cancer, women in their 20s and 30s are still under threat.
It’s estimated that 20,168 Australians will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year. That’s an average of 55 people a day – 55 people too many!
The average age of first diagnosis for women is 62 years, and approximately 80% of new breast cancer cases will develop in women aged 50 and older. So, while it’s less common for young women to develop breast cancer, it does happen.
And I’m proof. I was 37 years old when I was diagnosed with HER2+ breast cancer. My world fell apart, but two years later, I’m still here!
he Australian Institute of Health and Welfare estimates that in 2020, breast cancer will be diagnosed in:
• 4 women aged 20–24
• 79 women aged 25–29
• 255 women aged 30–34
• 580 women aged 35–49
• 1,070 women aged 40–44
So, what apart from age can increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer?
Some risk factors include:
• Family history of breast cancer.
• Faulty genes – around 5% of breast cancers occur in women who have inherited a single gene abnormality from their mother or father. The best known of these genes are BRCA1 and BRCA2.
• Lifestyle factors, such as physical inactivity, alcohol consumption and smoking.
• Hormonal replacement therapy.
• Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) – the most common type of non-invasive breast cancer.
• Benign breast conditions.
• High body mass.
• Using the oral contraceptive pill.
• Radiation to the chest or face before the age of 30.
There’s nothing we can do about many of these risk factors, and not all risk factors affect women the same way. But it’s important young women do what they can in terms of lifestyle to minimise their breast cancer risk (e.g. not smoking, at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day, and limiting alcohol intake).
I don’t want to scare the hell out of young women by talking about breast cancer, but I do want to raise awareness. If you’re a young woman, don’t be complacent about your risk factors. Do what you can to give yourself a fighting chance.
And if you have a young woman in your life and she is concerned about anything breast related, don’t ignore her just because of her age. Encourage her to seek professional advice immediately. You never know; it could save her life.