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Advanced Breast Cancer in Young Women

Last updated: July 2021

According to recent studies, a woman born today in the United States has a 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 develop breast cancer. By age 70, that number jumps to 1 in 24.1

While breast cancer in young women occurs less often, young women are still impacted by the disease. Each year, about 89,000 young people aged 15 to 39 are diagnosed with cancer. 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 include3:

  • 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 increase your risk of breast cancer include4:

  • 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 early 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 are more likely to have hormone receptor-negative breast cancer. This type grows more quickly and cannot be treated with common cancer drugs.5

Other reasons for these differences in young women may include5:

  • 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 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 outcome will be. If advanced breast cancer is located only in the breast, the 5-year survival rate with this disease is 99 percent.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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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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