Did you know… breast cancers in young women are different biologically from breast cancers faced by older women. Young women are more likely to be diagnosed with more aggressive triple-negative breast cancers, have large breast cancers (greater than 5cm) and have poorer survival outcomes.
Queenslander Bianca Innes became the youngest Australian diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 20. Whilst breast cancer is far less common in young women, there are still over 900 women under the age of 40 who are diagnosed with breast cancer each year in Australia.
Furthermore, the State of The Nation report by Breast Cancer Network Australia, which surveyed 15,000 people living with breast cancer, found that women under the age of 40 were more likely to be dismissed by health professionals as ‘too young’ to have breast cancer, when presenting with symptoms, leading to a delayed diagnosis.
Kylie Minogue, diagnosed at age 36, after being given the all clear just weeks before, has this advice for young women: “Just because someone is in a white coat and using big medical instruments doesn’t necessarily mean they are right…if you any doubt, go back again.”
Here are 3 ways to be your own breast advocate
BE BREAST AWARE
Breast screening with mammograms is not offered to women under the age of 40.
Why? Young women tend to have dense breast tissue, making it more difficult to distinguish normal from abnormal breast tissue on a mammogram and therefore limiting its usefulness.
The most effective method for early detection in young women is being breast aware, meaning knowing how your breasts normally look and feel and reporting any unusual changes to your doctor.
Four out of five young women diagnosed with breast cancer find their breast abnormality themselves. Do the three-point DIY breast check
CALCULATE YOUR RISK
iPrevent is a free online tool that calculates your lifetime risk for breast cancer based on your family cancer history, lifestyle and reproductive risk factor information.
It also provides personalised advice on breast cancer screening and the need for genetic counselling and testing if there are ‘red flags’ in your family history to suggest hereditary breast cancer.
Whilst you cannot change some of your risk factors for breast cancer, such as your family history, you can have choices in how to manage your risk.
‘TRIPLE TEST’ BREAST CHANGES
Whilst most breast changes are not due to breast cancer, it is important to use the ‘triple test’ to confirm or exclude a diagnosis of breast cancer.
The triple test refers to 3 diagnostic components: medical history and clinical breast examination, imaging with ultrasound and/or mammogram and biopsy. When performed appropriately, the triple test will detect over 99.6% of breast cancers.
A triple test negative on all components means that breast cancer can be ruled out with 99% accuracy. An abnormal result (indeterminate, suspicious or malignant) on any component of the triple test requires further investigations.
Dr. Mary Ling
Dr. Mary Ling is a Specialist Breast Surgeon based on the Central Coast in NSW. She is the author of The Breast Blog, which aims to educate and empower women of all ages to take charge of their breast health. Outside of the operating theatre, Mary enjoys long walks on the beach with her French Bulldog Hugo.
Read THE BREAST BLOG