Advanced Breast Cancer in Young Women

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: June 2023

According to recent studies, a woman born today in the United States has an estimated 1 in 8 chance of developing breast cancer in her lifetime. The risk of breast cancer increases with age. At age 30, 1 in 204 women will develop breast cancer in the following 10 years. By age 70, that number jumps to 1 in 24 developing breast cancer in the following 10 years1

While breast cancer in young women occurs less often, young women are still impacted by the disease. Each year, about 86,000 young people aged 15 to 39 are diagnosed with cancer in the United States. Of those, breast cancer is the most common among women.2

Risk factors

There are some risk factors for breast cancer that all women face. These include:3

  • Older age
  • Genetic mutations
  • Early menstruation or late menopause
  • Dense breasts
  • History of breast cancer or other breast diseases
  • Family history of breast or ovarian cancer
  • History of radiation therapy

If you are under 45, factors that may increase your risk of breast cancer include:4

  • Having a close relative diagnosed with breast cancer at a young age
  • Having a close relative diagnosed with ovarian cancer at any age
  • Having gene mutations of BRCA1 or BRCA2, or a close relative with these changes
  • Ashkenazi Jewish heritage
  • Previous radiation to the chest or breast as a child or young adult
  • Previous breast cancer or disease

Which types of breast cancer affect young women?

Compared to older women, younger women are more likely to have aggressive (high-grade) cancers with lower survival rates. Advanced breast cancer at the time of diagnosis is rising among women under age 40. The reasons for this are complex, but doctors believe that advanced breast cancer in young women is different than for those who are older.5

Young women tend to have different breast cancer tumor characteristics compared to older women. This can mean breast cancer that grows more quickly and is sometimes more difficult to treat.5

Other reasons for these differences in young women may include:5

  • There is no effective screening tool for women under the age of 40
  • Advanced breast cancer in young women is not a primary focus of most cancer research

Does age impact treatment?

Your doctor will be able to help you choose the best treatment for you. Treatment is based on the type, stage, and grade of your tumor. Many times, advanced breast cancer treatment is the same for women, regardless of age.6

Some cancer drugs, like aromatase inhibitors, have been shown more effective in those who have already gone through menopause. Some young women with breast cancer may opt for a lumpectomy (removal of the tumor) over a mastectomy (removal of the breast).7,8

What about my fertility?

As a young woman, you likely have concerns about your fertility and the ability to have children. Cancer treatment can affect your fertility, and some women have problems getting pregnant after treatment.7

Hormone therapy may change your periods and make your ovaries stop producing eggs. Many women find their periods and ovulation become normal after stopping hormone therapy. However, some women do not have this result.7

Chemotherapy and radiation can damage your eggs, which makes it harder to get pregnant.7

Talk to your doctor about your fertility concerns. There are treatments available and ways to preserve your fertility in some cases.7

What are the expected outcomes?

Breast cancer survival rates have increased over the years. Research and new treatments are promising for the overall survival of advanced breast cancer.5

Survival rates are an estimate and do not paint a clear picture of what your personal outcome will be.9

You will have questions about your advanced breast cancer. Your doctor will be able to help you determine your best treatment options and your expected outcomes.

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