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1 year ago
Frightening News About Breast Cancer

If you’re too young for regular mammograms, that doesn’t mean you’re in the clear when it comes to breast cancer:  The number of women ages 25 to 39 diagnosed with advanced breast cancer tripled over the last three decades, according to a new study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association.

Researchers analyzed data collected by Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results Program (SEER), run by the National Cancer Institute, between 1976 and 2009. Based on their data, which was pulled from a sample of the U.S. population, they estimated that 250 women under 40 were diagnosed with advanced breast cancer in the mid-1970s, compared to more than 800 who received the same diagnosis in 2009. More research is needed to determine why the increase happened, says Rebecca Johnson, MD, lead study author and medical director of the adolescent and young adult oncology program at Seattle Children’s Hospital.

Don’t freak out. While these results are alarming, the rate is still pretty small: Only 2.9 young women in every 100,000 were diagnosed with advanced breast cancer in 2009, according to the findings. Plus, to truly confirm that a spike occurred (and ensure these results weren’t a fluke), more research is necessary, says Laura Kruper, MD, co-director of the Breast Oncology Program at the City of Hope Cancer Center in Duarte, CA.

Still, the findings are a wake-up call to be more proactive about your breast health. “I think the really big point to take away from this study is that younger women can be diagnosed with breast cancer,” Kruper says.

Use these tips to keep your breasts as healthy as possible:

Get handsy once a month You’ve heard it before, but you’ve got to do self-exams. Here’s the thing: The key isn’t just doing them—you have to really get to know your breasts first. Once you have a good grasp on what’s normal for you (some women’s breasts are naturally denser), use your monthly self-exam as an opportunity to look for any deviations. Take the Touch-Yourself Challenge. If you notice anything unusual, get to your gyno, stat.

Check out your rack Red flags you should be keeping an eye out for include new lumps, skin changes (such as redness or an orange peel-like texture), nipple discharge (especially if it’s bloody), and major size changes (like if one is suddenly way bigger than the other). “Basically, a woman should ask, ‘Is this normal?’” Kruper says. Notice any of these symptoms? Again, hightail it to your gyno.

Be a nag If something seems off about your boobs but a doctor dismisses your concerns, don’t let it go. “As a breast cancer specialist, I see women who had a breast mass during breastfeeding and kept calling attention to it,” Kruper says. “Every doctor they saw kept saying, ‘It’s just because you’re breastfeeding. You’re too young to have breast cancer.’ Or, ‘Oh, you’re too young to have breast cancer. It’s just a cyst.’” Remember, it never hurts to get a second opinion—especially since you know your girls better than anyone else.

For more information on breast cancer, give some of these stories a read:

7 Ways to Keep Your Breasts Healthy

Mammograms: What's Best for Your Breasts? 

How to Help a Friend With Cancer

“I Am a Breast Cancer Survivor”

 

photo: iStockphoto/Thinkstock

More from Women's Health:
Your Breast Questions, Answered
Healthy Breasts at Every Age
What Happens to Your Breasts When...

 

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