What Are the Challenges of Breast Cancer for Young Women?

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among young women in Australia and the leading cause of death from cancer in this age group. While the incidence of breast cancer is low in women aged 20 to 30, it is still important to be aware of the unique challenges that young women face when it comes to diagnosis, treatment, and recovery. The most common sign of breast cancer is a new lump or mass that is usually hard and painless. However, young women often have bumps on their breasts that are not cancerous.

While most lumps are not breast cancer, there is always a chance that a lump is cancerous, even in a younger woman. Young women are more likely to be diagnosed with more aggressive forms of breast cancer, such as triple negative breast cancer. They may also experience difficulties in the workplace due to extended periods of absence from work during treatment. This can have a detrimental effect on their career progress and future earning potential.

Treatments for breast cancer can reduce fertility temporarily or permanently, but this does not mean that it is impossible to get pregnant during or after treatment. Hormone therapies for breast cancer do not cause infertility, but they may reduce fertility while they are being taken. The physical effects of breast cancer treatment can include fatigue, trouble sleeping, weight gain, cardiovascular health problems, and reduced bone mineral density. The psychological burden of breast cancer can also be significant, with physical changes in the body causing feelings such as loss of femininity and sexual attractiveness.

Fear of recurrence is a common concern for all women diagnosed with breast cancer, but it can be particularly debilitating for young women who must live with this fear for longer periods of time. This fear can cause anxiety, depression and a reduced quality of life.Organized breast cancer screening aims to detect breast cancer at an early stage in women. In Australia, BreastScreen Australia performs population screening and includes mammograms (an X-ray of the breast). However, routine breast exams are not offered for those under 40 due to insufficient evidence that mammography is an effective national breast cancer screening strategy for young women.One effective method for the early detection of breast cancer in young women is breast awareness.

Women of all ages should be aware of what their breasts normally look and feel like and inform their GP without delay about any new (or unusual) changes.Young women classified as at high risk of developing breast cancer should talk to their primary care doctor about an individual routine screening program. Breast images used to investigate breast symptoms or to monitor young women may include breast ultrasounds, mammograms, and breast MRIs.

Tonya Sharrai
Tonya Sharrai

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