Let’s talk about breast cancer in young women

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Around three women aged under 40 will be diagnosed with breast cancer every day in Australia. Cancer Australia has released a new animated video,You know your breasts best, to give young women the information they need to help identify the early signs of breast cancer.

In 2020, breast cancer is estimated to be the most commonly diagnosed cancer for women aged 20-39 years in Australia, and also the most common cause of cancer death, causing around 1 in 5 cancer deaths in women in this age group.

“Breast awareness is critical for young women to help them find breast cancer early, as women know their own breasts best,” said Professor Dorothy Keefe, CEO Cancer Australia.

“This new video encourages young women to know what is normal for them, the symptoms to look out for and the vital importance of contacting their doctor if they notice a change. This could mean finding breast cancer at an early stage rather than at a late stage, when it is much harder to treat.”

Most breast cancers in young women are diagnosed as a result of investigation of a lump or other breast symptom. These symptoms are most often found by the woman herself during normal routine activities such as showering and dressing, or by her partner.

“Breast cancers in young women tend to have different characteristics and poorer survival outcomes compared with older women,” said Professor Keefe.

Young women face unique medical and psychosocial challenges, including premature menopause, fertility and sexuality issues and role functions that may be threatened, including partnering, caring for young children, education and career issues. Concern about these issues may contribute to younger women experiencing higher levels of psychosocial distress following diagnosis, compared with older women.

While mammographic screening is effective in the early detection of breast cancer among older women, there is no evidence to support the use of mammographic screening in women aged under 40 years.

Breast changes to look out for include:

  • a change to the nipple, such as crusting, ulcer, redness or inversion
  • a nipple discharge that occurs without squeezing
  • a change in the skin over your breast such as redness or dimpling
  • or an unusual pain that doesn’t go away.

All women, regardless of age, should be aware of how their breasts look and feel. Most changes aren’t due to breast cancer, but it’s important for women to see their doctor if they notice anything new or unusual for them. If the change is due to breast cancer, the earlier cancer is found and treated, the better the chances of survival. 

Cancer Australia has a dedicated Breast cancer in young women section of its website specifically about the management of younger women with breast cancer, including the latest evidence based information for Health Professionals

Cancer Australia will also release a breast cancer online clinical education course, The younger woman with early breast cancer, in late October 2020.Hosted on the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine's (ACRRM) online learning platform, the course provides evidence-based accredited interactive online education for primary care health professionals.