October is around the corner, which means Breast Cancer Awareness will be at its peak. A particular subject comes to mind that seems more and more relevant every week for me in my practice -- young women who are diagnosed with breast cancer. A better way to phrase it is “premenopausal” breast cancers, although it is hard to describe women in their early 30’s as “premenopausal”. But I am seeing it quite often lately, and I can’t really explain why.
The peak incidence of breast cancer occurs in women in their late 60s/early 70’s. But I can’t help but notice that the average age for my breast cancer patients is much less. Some of these young cancers can be blamed on family history and genetic mutations, such as BRCA1 and BRCA2. But not the majority. As stated before, there is not a solid explanation for this, only speculation about hormonal influences, environmental effects, etc. But awareness can help, since early detection is key. And family history doesn’t always hold true for all women diagnosed, as sporadic breast cancers are far more common than those related to a strong family history for breast cancer.
For women in their 30’s the probability of developing a breast cancer is 1 in 230. For women in their 40’s, the probability is 1 in 70. And for women in their 50’s, 1 in 43. My goal here is to not scare everyone to think that they are destined for a breast cancer. I simply want to bring attention to what I am seeing in my clinic with so many younger breast cancers, women who may not be old enough to start annual mammography. And with so many mandates suggesting that annual mammography should start at age 50 rather than at age 40, then we may see delays in prompt diagnosis of otherwise detectable breast cancers.
What can we do? The answer is to be as vigilant as possible. Perform self exam, stay current on mammograms, don’t be afraid to get a new lump checked out by your doctor. It’s likely to be benign, but at least you were vigilant. So many of my patients who were diagnosed young found their cancer on their own, doing self exams. And as I said, early detection is so important, especially when many of these young breast cancers are biologically more aggressive than those of their older counterparts. The dreaded “triple negative” breast cancer is more common in younger women than older, and is associated with BRCA mutations.
Awareness for a disease is always a good thing. Awareness for those who might least expect it, even better.
Christopher A. Menendez, M.D. F.A.C.S.
Breast Surgical Oncologist
Northwest Arkansas Breast Care Specialists
701 S Horsebarn Rd, Suite 100
Rogers, AR 72758
Phone: (479) 876-8028
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