Breast Cancer Affects Individuals of All Ages
Affecting Women of All Ages
The words “breast cancer” are two of the most fearsome and loathsome a person can hear. Thanks to continued advancements in medicine, however, the future for breast cancer survivors continues to look brighter and brighter. But, for a growing number of unlikely young women, they’re hearing the phrase breast cancer at an alarmingly high rate. In other words, the incidence of breast cancer in women between the ages of 25 and 39 is steadily rising.
Dr. Rebecca Johnson, diagnosed with breast cancer at age 27, is a pediatric cancer specialist at Seattle Children’s Hospital. Her experience with the disease led her to conduct a national study that looked at breast cancer rates among women of all ages. The research conducted by her and her team concluded that diagnoses of metastatic breast cancer tripled in women under 40 from 1976 and 2009 among women whose cancer had spread prior to their diagnosis.
Thankfully, the actual numbers remain very small (800 women annually, compared to 250 a year in the mid-1970s according to an NPR report), but the greatest increase was found in younger women (25-34). Furthermore, the trend seems to be affecting women regardless of ethnicity or geography and has actually been accelerating in recent years. Even more perplexing, researchers have found no significant boost in breast cancer rates in women over the age of 55.
Breast cancer is now the most common malignant tumor found in young women, affecting those as young as 15 years old. According to an article from Natural News, "Young women with breast cancer tend to have the more aggressive form of the disease than older women and they also have higher death rates from breast cancer." In 2011, nearly 1,200 women under the age of 40 died from breast cancer.
The findings are worrying for an “age group that already has the worst prognosis, no recommended routine screening practice, the least health insurance and the most potential years of life,” the researchers pointed out.
Now the goal is to discover why these rates are on the rise. Possible causes include increased obesity rates, changes in alcohol and tobacco use, and genetics. It’s also possible that younger women experienced more exposure to environmental toxins during and since childhood than previous generations.
Also, researchers from the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine have concluded that decreased levels of serum vitamin D in young women could be a red flag for an upcoming breast cancer diagnosis. Thus, it’s safe to ask if legions of young women will develop the disease because they are deficient in vitamin D after using sunscreen and avoiding sun exposure their entire lives, unlike many older women.
The study’s authors are quick to note that women should not feel unduly concerned. As previously said, the number of young women diagnosed with breast cancer is still small. However, that more research is necessary to better understand this emerging trend and how it can be prevented. Young women who feel that something may not be right with their bodies must be firm with doctors; the best approach is to be your own advocate, as health care providers may dismiss worries and/or symptoms based on age.