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Are Only Older Women at Risk? Breaking the Myth of Age and Breast Cancer

It is a common misconception that breast cancer affects older women only; however, there are other factors to consider than age. Breast cancer can also strike younger women. Understanding that genetics and family history might contribute to the risk is critical. Additionally, probabilities might be influenced by the diet and level of activity. 

 

There are several obstacles in the way of young Indian women managing breast cancer. By 2025, the National Cancer Registry Programme (NCRP) projects that around 2,30,000 new cases of breast cancer will be registered each year, with a continuous rise in instances involving young women (less than 45 years of age). 

 

So, in this blog, we'll explore a common misunderstanding about breast cancer, highlighting the fact that it doesn't just affect older women.

 

Understanding Early-Onset Breast Cancer

 

A breast cancer diagnosis acquired between the ages of 18 and 45 is referred to as early-onset breast cancer, which affects young women and those who are assigned female at birth (AFAB). Although those over 50 are frequently affected by breast cancer, it may affect anybody at any age. 

 

Cases diagnosed in young adults and adolescents are included. It is essential to acknowledge the potential for breast cancer at this younger age to increase awareness and encourage early identification. Frequent screenings and education programs are necessary to guarantee that people in the 18–45 age range are aware of their breast health, which will allow for prompt intervention and better results.

 

Common Breast Cancer Types in Young Women

 

Any breast cancer can strike people in their younger years. Nonetheless, within this age range, the most common types of breast cancers are as follows:

 

  • Invasive Ductal Carcinoma (IDC) is prevalent across all age groups, including young individuals.
  • Triple-negative breast Cancer (TNBC): A relatively rare but challenging-to-treat invasive breast cancer type, with a higher incidence among young people.

 

Identifying Symptoms of Breast Cancer in Young Women

 

Symptoms of breast cancer in young women are the same as those experienced by individuals of all ages with this condition. These symptoms of breast cancer encompass:

  • Breast Lumps or Armpit Lump: Detectable masses in the breast or underarm region.
  • Breast Pain (Mastalgia): Discomfort or pain in the breast.
  • Changes in Breast Skin: Alterations such as redness, dimpling, or a skin rash.
  • Inverted Nipple: Nipple turning inward.
  • Nipple Discharge: Discharge from the nipple, with or without associated pain.
  • Swollen Lymph Nodes: Enlarged lymph nodes in the vicinity.
  • Thickening or Swelling: Changes in breast skin or nipple thickness and swelling.

 

Breast Cancer Risk Factors in Young Women

 

    1. Delayed Childbearing: Delaying parenthood until later in life may put women at higher risk of developing breast cancer. It is believed that the hormonal shifts brought on by pregnancy and lactation preserve breast tissue.
    2. Hormonal Contraceptives: Certain hormonal contraceptives, such as birth control tablets, may increase the risk of breast cancer, according to some research. Though there seems to be a small overall risk increase, each person's unique health demands should be considered.
    3. Genetic Factors: Young women are considerably more at risk if they have a family history of breast cancer, mainly if those relatives are first-degree relatives (mother, sisters). Inherited mutations in specific genes, such as BRCA1 and BRCA2, cause a higher risk.
    4. Lifestyle Choices: Unhealthy lifestyle choices, such as a diet heavy in processed foods and saturated fats, irregular exercise, and binge drinking, are linked to a higher risk of breast cancer in young women.
    5. Environmental Factors: Being around certain chemicals or pollution might play a role in breast cancer. Trying to limit exposure to these things is essential.
    6. Breastfeeding Practices: Not breastfeeding or doing it for a short time might slightly raise your breast cancer risk. The protective benefits of breastfeeding are related to hormonal and cellular changes during lactation.
    7. Medical History: Breast cancer is known to be associated with prior chest radiation exposure, particularly during treatments such as radiation therapy for Hodgkin's disease. Comprehending a person's medical background is essential for determining risk.
    8. Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT): The use of specific hormone replacement therapies to treat menopausal symptoms has been associated with a higher risk of breast cancer. Using HRT should only be decided after thorough consideration and discussion with medical experts.
    9. BRCA Mutations: Breast cancer in young women is substantially more likely to occur when there are inherited mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. Genetic testing can direct risk management methods and assist in identifying individuals with specific mutations.
  • Mammographic Density: Having dense breasts on mammograms might make breast cancer harder to spot. Understanding mammographic density is essential for risk assessment and customized screening plans.

 

Diagnosis Process and Screening for Breast Cancer in Young Women

 

  • Initial breast exam by a healthcare provider followed by inquiries about symptoms and medical history.
  • Imaging tests are ordered to detect abnormal growths, with a potential biopsy if necessary.

 

Breast Cancer Screening for Young Women (Under 40, at increased risk):

 

  • A breast MRI is recommended for detailed examination in selected cases.
  • Early screening is advised for those at the highest risk. The modality of screening is to be discussed with the doctor.

 

Myths about Breast cancer 

 

  • Family History Myth:
  • Truth: Breast cancer risk exists regardless of family history; prioritize mammography and regular screenings.
  • Young Women Epidemic Myth:
  • Truth: Over 95% of breast cancer cases occur in women aged 40 and above, dispelling the notion of an epidemic in young women.
  • Antiperspirant and Bra Myth about Breast cancer:
  • Truth: No evidence links antiperspirants or bras to breast cancer; scientific studies dismiss these concerns.
  • Fatal Diseases Myth:
  • Truth: Heart disease and lung cancer claim more lives than breast cancer; advancements in early detection enhance survival rates.

 

Conclusion

 

Dispelling the myths of breast cancer that older women's breast cancer is common is crucial. The goal of busting this misconception is to inspire everyone, young or old, to adopt preventative measures, such as routine checkups and healthy choices. Early identification of symptoms of breast cancer and prompt treatments are made possible by reevaluating the breast cancer risk factors across age groups.

If you or someone you know is dealing with breast cancer at a young age, consider consulting professional specialists at a hospital that specializes in different areas for advice. 




Dr Rajeev Agarwal
Senior Director - Breast Surgery
Meet The Doctor
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