Breast cancer on the rise in young women

Breast cancer on the rise in young women

A recent study is giving young women a good reason to pay closer attention to their breast health. The news is based on previous data that may have given younger women a false sense of security about their risks for developing breast cancer. In fact, past research has shown that just under 7 percent of all breast cancer cases actually occur in women under the age of 40.

But the recent study, published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, found that advanced cases of breast cancer in young women in the U.S. climbed from an average of about 250 cases per year in the mid-1970s to more than 800 per year in 2009.

So what’s behind the increase? Some studies suggest that the rise in the use of birth control pills over the past decade might be a factor, because of their synthetic hormones (estrogen and progestin/progesterone); while other research points to a link between breast cancer and hormone replacement therapy.

Physicians who are already weighing in on the research say the news should give doctors and young women a new reason to take a closer look when it comes to diagnosing and recognizing symptoms.

That’s because diagnosing breast cancer in women under 40 can be more difficult. Their breast tissue is generally denser than the breast tissue in older women, experts say. And in some cases by the time a young woman feels a lump in her breast, the cancer is often advanced.

Additionally, breast cancer in younger women can be aggressive and less likely to respond to treatment.

Dr. Heidi Memmel, breast surgeon at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital located in Park Ridge, Ill., says it’s very important that young women pay attention to the warning signs.

“If they notice any unusual discharge coming from their breasts or a lump, they should schedule an appointment to see their physician immediately.”

Memmel says even though mammograms are not recommended for women under 40, there are exceptions when a woman is considered to be at high risk.

“Knowing your family history is very important,” Memmel says. “If your physician is aware of certain risk factors, they may test earlier and likely recommend other preventative steps for their patients.”

Memmel also points to advancements made in detecting breast cancer as a plus for young women: “Digital mammography is much more sensitive in detecting abnormalities in the presence of dense breast tissue.”

When it comes to treatment in young women, Dr. Memmel says several factors are involved:

  • Treatment is based on the extent of the woman’s disease as well as her personal history and overall general health and well-being.
  • Treatment options can include surgery to remove the lump and possibly some surrounding tissue. In some cases, a mastectomy may be required, which is the removal of a breast.
  • Radiation therapy is generally used following surgery. Your physician may also recommend chemotherapy and/or hormone therapy to help destroy any remaining cancer cells and prevent recurrence.

Because breast cancer can strike at any age, Memmel says women of all ages should be aware of the high risk factors for breast cancer, including:

  • A family history of breast cancer in a male or female close blood relative (first-, second-, and third-degree relative)
  • A personal history of breast cancer or if you have a specific genetic defect (BRCA1/BRCA2 gene mutation)
  • Any history of radiation therapy to the chest before age 40
  • Race, heavy alcohol use, smoking, very dense breasts and obesity

Taking preventive steps to ensure you are healthy is always the right thing to do. The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends beginning at age 20, women get regular clinical breast exams at least every three years. The ACS also recommends annual screening mammograms starting at age 40. But it is important to note that the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends routine screening for women ages 50 to 74.

For more information on breast health, visit

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  1. “So what’s behind the increase? Some studies suggest that the rise in the use of birth control pills over the past decade might be a factor, because of their synthetic hormones (estrogen and progestin/progesterone); while other research points to a link between breast cancer and hormone replacement therapy.”

    And yet, no where in this article do they suggest that stopping birth control pill and HRT prescriptions would help!!!!!! Crazy!!!!! Without TRUE preventitive measures, this will only get worse. GET. OFF. THE. PILL.

    • I agree. When I was diagnosed, it was shocking to everyone. No one in my family has had cancer, including the ladies in the 90s, and I was in my 30s. I had always eaten like a health nut, exercised regularly, and stayed slim easily because of genetics. But I took birth control pills for years. Most of the women in my circle of friends and acquaintances who had breast cancer are slim, fit, college-educated, and postponed child-bearing by taking birth control pills.

      • My best friend died of breast cancer several years ago. This is exactly why our whole family has gotten off all chemicals and toxins and eat organic. With all the research out there connecting all the toxins and chemicals in our health and skin care products and foods to cancer, we’re done. You should look into Essante, their products are all 100% certified toxic and chemical free. I took birth control for years and I don’t believe that is the only culprit because I’m clear. Just read about sodium lauryl sulfate that is in most hair care products and the connection to breast cancer, it’s staggering. We’e done with chemicals. By the time a typical woman leaves her house, she has an average of 120 chemicals on her body. Not this family. Blessings on you…

      • Julie–you have hit the nail right on the head! I’m 100% with you on all the chemicals you mentioned above. We ingest them by our food and by the so-called “safe” cosmetics we use every day. For the last few years I’ve been purchasing my lotions, etc at Whole Foods where non-GMOs are labeled, etc. I am convinced that breast cancer is an environmental cancer and I it can be prevented as well. My mother was diagnosed with it at age 65, so I have had first hand experience with it. Ladies, please read the labels on not only your food but your cosmetics!! Thanks for your post, Julie.

    • Maria, yes get off the PILL! Studies have reported a link between the pill and breast cancer. And, what is more disturbing, there are more than 13 research studies in the US that indicate a link between abortion and breast cancer. It is especially significant a young woman who has had an abortion in her first pregnancy has a high risk of contracting breast cancer. Planned Parenthood and minions will not inform women of this very high risk factor of abortion. For info on the link between abortion and breast cancer Google Brind, abortion-breast cancer….

      • Joseph, your link goes to an anti-abortion website – which is a pretty biased source.

        There have been studies that link breast cancer and abortion. However, the methodology of many of these studies is severely flawed, especially when a case-control design is used.

        The American Cancer Society, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and the National Cancer Institute have all completed meta-analyses on the link between abortion and breast cancer, and have included that there is no correlation. A meta-analysis is a data analysis method that is far, far more robust and statistically valid than looking at individual studies alone.

      • I would add to what Amy says, if abortion is indeed linked to breast cancer, miscarriages would be too. So everyone who wants to scare women who have abortions should make sure they scare unfortunate women who have miscarriages as well. That would be the “responsible” thing to do.

      • Joseph,
        This is not true. The studies have been refuted. I believe you have an agenda that has nothing to do with young women and breast cancer.

    • Maria’s absolutely right. It’s outrageous and irresponsible that in the recommendations for preventing breast cancer the most likely effective measures like stopping birth control pills and hormone replacement “therapy” (HRT) aren’t mentioned, The BRCA1/BRCA2 gene mutation cause only about 5% of breast cancers, while the other 95% are NOT due to genetic factors. In many other recommendations for prevention of breast cancer I’ve read the same misleading, irresponsible and often fatal “recommendations for prevention.” Over and over birth control pills and hormone replacement “therapy” been proven to be highly carcinogenic and major factors in breast cancer (and many other cancers), yet the medical/industrial complex continues to make billions in profit off the aggressive promotion and selling of birth control pills and hormone replacement “therapy”. Not every IUD is dangerous and diaphragms with gel are very safe and effective, as are vasectomies and condoms. Julie James should be ashamed of himself for trying divert blame from the pharmaceutical corporations and for trying to sell a crap product like Essante in “comments” when 41,000 women die each year from breast cancer. Please peddle your trash elsewhere and stop being an apologist and covering up for birth control pill purveyors.
      While “Joseph” is trying to blame breast cancer on abortion the so-called studies he cites have long ago been shown to be bogus. Crocker has a point when he mentions that all the livestock have been injected with hormones to fatten them up – some of the same hormones found in quadruplicate in birth control pills and HRT. Between that and the pesticides we ingest there are probably many cancers precipitated. But still men don’t get breast cancer at the rate women do – neither do they take hormone pills. Nat. Cancer Inst.
      estimates new cases and deaths from breast cancer in the United States in 2013: New cases: 232,340 (female); 2,240 (male). So I’d say the meat industry, while toxic, isn’t nearly as toxic as pharmaceutical hormone purveyors.

      • I agree with much of what you say, although there HAVE been many warnings about HRT. The link is clear and has widely publicized. What confuses me is why HRT is even mentioned in an article about young women and breast cancer as young women don’t do hormone replacement therapy.

  2. What it comes down to is what we eat. In an effort to increase production, we inject growth hormones into our cattle, use chemicals to enhance plant growth, spray insecticides to reduce insect damage and the list goes on and on. All that stuff enters the food chain and we absorb it. There are going to be repercussions and this is one of them.

  3. The most common form of birth control used in the world is the IUD. The Dalkon Shield scare back in the 1970s pushed most American women away from it, and US doctors are scared to death of being sued so they don’t push it. Many bennies to IUDs, even for women that have never had a baby before.

  4. I think there is a 3 major issues here. 1 Women wear bras too much and do not allow their body to circulate blood and flush toxins. 2. Women consume too much “diet” foods which are loaded with chemicals and toxic substances. 3. Medical community a) keeps women radiating their breasts with mammograms and other damaging, invasive procedures b) deliberate poisoning with drugs, hormones and other foreign elements….

    • MISINFORMATION!!!! Almost all of it. No evidence whatsoever to support bras or diet foods cancer connection. The mammogram issue is real, but the weight of evidence suggests that the benefits to middle aged and older women outweigh the slim risk.

  5. So how long does it take for a comment to clear moderation???

  6. I agree get off the pill and eat things that are plant based……It’s environmental as well! Breast cancer does not discriminate, I was only 42, my mom was 75 and my niece was only 29! I told my family including all my nieces to be their own advocate and get mammograms! Most doctors do not want to do mammograms at their age, but if the history is there it should be considered. We do not have the BRCA gene. If it runs in your family like mine be your own advocate and ask questions and take preventative measures, it could someday save your life!

    • I don’t know if mammograms are the answer. My friend’s sister started mammograms in her 30s because of the gene. She was diagnosed with metastasized breast cancer four months after a clear mammogram found nothing. She was fought for a year and a half, and she was gone.

  7. I know a lot of women, younger and older, who don’t do self exams or go get checked by drs… but there is always the risk of missing something, even if you are diligent. Hopefully, though, continued technologies will make a dent, as well as overall good health habits increasing. I’m proud to say my local breast care program offers all the latest technologies as well as support through the process / before…

  8. Why are we not hearing more about 3D Mammograms for women with dense breasts? Evidence is in, that abnormalities are caught so much quicker than with “state of the art” (not…)3D over digital mammography. Arguments are such a small percentage of women show abnormalities that it’s not cost justifiable, but if you were that “one”…the extra fee for having such a life saving test is very much justified. Every woman should have the option to choose 3D or digital, not some insurance company. I just had one and only had to pay $69.00 which wasa the best money I’ve ever spent for true peace of mind the standard digital does NOT give. Only the best test should be what is offered to all women everywhere….and that has been proven to be the 3D mammogram. Educate yourselves women…we are truly our own best advocates in this fight against breast cancer. Demand 3D, not the standard digital.

    • I don’t have health insurance and my state didn’t expand Medicaid, so I am in the doughnut hole. i will still go without healthcare. Breast cancer does run on one side of my family and I will never be able to afford to go to a doctor to know.

  9. alarming statistics, annual mammogram instead of three years such as in England, worldwide breast cancer research money with tune of billions of dollars yet overall death rate from advanced breast cancer in the US or other countries hasn’t changed even though medical community advertise with impressively improved 5 year survival rate. is this make sense? no change in death rate yet better survival? are they making too many questionable diagnosis of so-called precancerous lesion included as a cancer to make the numbers look good. recent article quoted in major newspaper quoted some of leading cancer specialists warned about this. US health care cost is going up and up, this is partly to blame. don’t play the game with emotion of scare.

  10. What about people having to have air fresheners in every room of the house, and in front of their nose in the office, hand sanitizers used 20x per day, etc, etc??

  11. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to know what the best course of action is. As for me, there has been no history in my family of breast cancer. For that reason, I have chosen, so far, to skip screenings for the past 10 years. I do plan to have at least one more screening, however, simply because I want to quell the constant “reminders” that my doctors issue. I figure I’ve saved my breasts 10 years of radiation, but even I know that this does not mean that I am breast cancer free for the rest of my life.

    • It is difficult. I would probably do it more than once a decade, though. Most people diagnosed with breast cancer don’t have a family history.

  12. My daughter was diagnosed with stage VI breast cancer when she was 31 years old. She went into remission for 3 years and when it came back it came back with a vengeance and she lived another year before she passed away at the age of 36. I don’t know what the answer is but young women should be included in the fight for breast cancer for early detection, not only mammograms but ultra-sounds as well. We are loosing too many of our young women. Praying for the survivors and the ones left behind who have lost loved ones.

  13. So Crocker, are you saying that IUDs cause breast cancer? I have a family history of bc, and I have been having mammograms regularly. Never too birth control pills for the same reason. I think insurance should also cover BRCA test, which is the genetic test to find whether a person has that inherited gene mutation. But then again, once its positive, are we ready to do what Ms. Jolie did? Being proactive to that degree, I am not sure as even if I carry that gene, I might or might not have bc.

  14. Rebecca luttrell October 8, 2013 at 1:09 pm · Reply

    I have breast cancer, there is nine in my family,
    But my family is a heavy smoker
    So I say there is a connection
    So I say everyone need to also quit smoking

  15. Cell phones, iPhones, radiating the breast tissue. Solution, a headset. Measure with Cellsensor.

  16. Amy, you mention the “anti-abortion” link which you say is “biased”. How about checking the “Breast Cancer Risks and Prevention” booklet which includes ALL the real facts and data, done by the prestigious Breast Cancer Prevention Institute. Check out their Online Booklet and be totally amazed (and wonder why this data isn’t on the front page every day!!!) : — the truth will set you free!

  17. I just had a double mastectomy for breast cancer and am now doing reconstruction. DCIS was found on the mammogram, however, the mammogram (14-16 pictures on that side) did not show two invasive spots on the same breast. It took an MRI for those to show up. Thank God I had the DCIS also, or the MRI would not have been done. First off, I had very dense breasts and the mammogram was not 3D. INSIST that you get 3D mammography. Also, if DCIS is found, also insist on an MRI. Not all surgeons do them. Thank God they got all of mine out before it had spread to any lymph nodes. I was diagnosed at age 56, no history of breast cancer in the family, but a big history of other cancers, especially colon. They are now doing genetic testing on me. Take care of yourselves ladies!

  18. Funny how there is absolutely no suggestion that it could possibly be coming from all the hormones and antibiotics present in milk, meat and cheeses. Or all the chemicals our food is bathed in while it is growing in the fields or manufactured in factories. Or even all of the genetically modified foods that have been proven to contribute to cancer in lab animals. I am not saying it IS coming from those things, but I think there are some pretty strong studies out there indicating a strong possibility of that. But never fear, our government and the FDA is watching out for us right? Right? Surely all those other countries that ban hormones, antibiotics and genetically modified foods must be wrong!
    Hey, this is the first time I’ve ever been asked a math equation to have my comment posted! Much better than trying to read those misformed,conjoined letters I’m usually asked to do!

  19. Rosemarie Truman October 17, 2013 at 5:33 am · Reply

    Hi All,

    Mortality rates have increased for young women in breast cancer. Please help spread the word about our start-up contest. The Center for Advancing Innovation has partnered with the National Cancer Institute and the Avon Foundation to launch the first ever breast cancer start-up challenge globally.

    Up to 30 teams can enter to earn $1million or more for their start-ups to progress breast cancer research.

    Please find the website here:

  20. Charinyaseneviratne August 20, 2014 at 5:16 pm · Reply

    Breast cancer is a tough nut to crack.
    But it is not the only one that is sparked by foolish decisions and actions.
    But it also crucial we keep improving awareness of this pest disease.
    The ramifications of not keeping our health in check-(smoking, junk food, physical inactivity, obesity) can prove disastrous and, being a high school student I understand how kids hectic minds work. And therefore we must link these avoidable actions with lifelong diseases to get to that place where kids understand consequences can ruin their life.
    Most kids know these diseases but cannot do nothing about it because they lack knowledge.

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health enews Staff
health enews Staff

health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.