New Brunswick, N.J., October 1, 2023 – Although breast cancer in young women is still rare, affecting only 4-6 percent of women under the age of 40, in recent years, research is showing that cancers are on the rise for younger Americans under 50. Breast cancer accounts for the highest number of cancer cases in younger people according to a recent study published in JAMA Network Open. Deborah Toppmeyer, MD, chief medical officer, director of the Breast Oncology Program, director of the LIFE Center and chief of medical oncology at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, whose clinical expertise includes younger women with breast cancer, shares what young women should know.
You may think you are too young to be at risk for developing breast cancer.
Younger women who have breast cancer may ignore the warning signs, because they believe they are too young to get breast cancer. Additionally, women under age 40 generally have denser breast tissue than older women, which makes it more difficult to feel a lump or any abnormalities. This can lead to a delay in diagnosis and poorer outcomes. It’s important to know how your breasts feel to help you notice when there are changes that need to be examined by a doctor. Early disease usually does not cause pain. As the cancer grows, symptoms may include:
• A lump or thickening in or near the breast or in the underarm area
• Change in the size or shape of the breast, or tenderness.
• Nipple discharge or the nipple pulled back into the breast
• A change in the way the skin of the breast, areola, or nipple looks or feels (warm, swollen, red, or scaly
Some factors put women at higher risk at a younger age.
Knowing your family history can help you figure out your risk and take action as needed. A woman's risk for developing breast cancer increases if her mother, sister, or daughter had breast cancer, especially at a young age. Additionally, changes in certain genes (BRCA1, BRCA2, and others) increase the risk of breast cancer. In families in which many women have had the disease, gene testing can sometimes show the presence of specific genetic changes that increase the risk of breast cancer. The Hereditary Oncology Prevention and Evaluation (HOPE) High Risk Clinic at Rutgers Cancer Institute, as well as other High Risk Breast Cancer Clinics throughout RWJBarnabas Health provides those with high risk due to having a family history of breast or gynecological cancers or a genetic mutation, to meet with an oncology nurse practitioner to best weigh options and develop a personalized risk management plan.
Too Young to Screen?
If you are unsure about breast cancer screening recommendations for your personal situation, discuss with your doctor to make a decision that feels right for you. Learn more at rwjbh.org/mammo.
Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey and RWJBarnababs Health is the state’s leading cancer program and only NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center.