Chances are you know someone who has, or has had breast cancer. 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:
- You can get a breast check or mammogram at Northwest Community Hospital in Arlington Heights. You can find out more about the Breast Center through this website or by calling 847-618-5880.
- Holy Family Medical Center of Resurrection Health Care in Des Plaines has a Women's Imaging Center and can be reached at 847-297-1800 extension 1919.
- The NorthShore University Health System offers mammography services, as well as other services at Skokie Hospital which can be reached at 847-933-6100; at the Old Orchard Medical Office Building which can be reached at 847-663-8069; and at the Nordstrom's in the Old Orchard Shopping Center. For an appointment contact 847-677-2121 extension 2099.
- WomanCare Breast Health Center in Arlington Heights can be contacted at 847-221-4200.
- Golf Diagnostic Imaging Center in Des Plaines offers mammograms and can be contacted at 847-296-5366. Apollo X-Ray Mammography Services, Inc. also offers mammograms and bone density checks and can be reached at 847-657-1200. 3T Imaging of Morton Grove offers the same and can be contacted at 847-213-2700.
- Advocate Lutheran General Hospital Center Caldwell Breast Center in Park Ridge schedules same-day mammograms. The Center can be reached at 847-723-5050.
- The Cook County Department of Public Health is part of the Illinois Breast and Cervical Cancer Program through the Illinois Department of Health. For more information contact 708-786-4000.
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.