With this being Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we’re seeing reminders to do self-exams and get mammograms . . . but nearly all of the campaigns are aimed at women 40 and up. Is this something that should be changed? Is breast cancer PR aiming too high?
Thanks to years of these campaigns, many women assume that they don’t need to worry about breast cancer until they are middle aged or older. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in women between the ages of 15 to 54 and over 10,000 women under 40 will be diagnosed with it this year, with another 23,000 under 45. That might seem like a drop in the bucket, but for those 10,000 women and their families, it will be a devastating diagnosis. As someone who’s sister was diagnosed at just 24, I know from experience that it can be a horrible shock to realize that this type of cancer can hit this early . . . most of us aren’t even thinking about mammograms in our twenties!
Since younger women don’t make up a huge percentage of those affected, there is very little breast cancer research being done on this age group. Thanks to a lack of awareness that breast cancer can hit women under 40, many girls are diagnosed at a much later stage, which is the main reason this form of cancer is so deadly among those under 40. Another reason is that experts believe cancer in younger women is actually a more aggressive form, particularly in those under 25.
Even during October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, most of our attention is focused on the older set.
Support for Young Breast Cancer Patients
When someone is diagnosed years before anyone else they know, it can be very lonely. There are plenty of cancer support groups, but for many younger patients, the fact that there is no one their age or with the same concerns can make this already hard time even more difficult. Younger breast cancer patients face worries about fertility, growth and other issues that might not even come up for those diagnosed a decade or more later.
Fortunately, there is support available.
The Young Survivor’s Coalition is perhaps one of the best known support site for those who have been diagnosed at a young age. They offer statistics, resources and research updates. There is also an online community where patients can share their stories and get feedback from others.
In some larger cities, groups of young breast cancer survivors have formed, as well, to give hope to those just being diagnosed.
Breast cancer isn’t just a disease to worry about after 50. It affects women of all ages and has become a problem that everyone should be aware of. It’s time for Breast Cancer Awareness to focus on the younger victims, as well.