Advanced Breast Cancer on the Rise in Younger Women

Jaime Lewis, MDContributed by Jaime Lewis, MD

new study has revealed that advanced breast cancer is on the rise among women younger than 40. From 1976 to 2009, the rate increased by an average of 2 percent per year. The change is small but may have significant clinical implications in terms of years of life affected or lost. Additionally, the rate appears to be accelerating over time.

What is advanced breast cancer?

Also called metastatic cancer, distant breast cancer refers to the final stage of the disease (stage IV) in which it has spread beyond the breast and underarm lymph nodes to other sites in the body, such as the liver, lungs, bones or brain. And while breast cancer survival rates have improved considerably in recent years, the most advanced stage of the disease still offers a poor prognosis.

Why is advanced breast cancer on the rise?

At this point, additional research is needed to determine what’s behind the increase. It may be due to an environmental factor, or it may be the result of lifestyle changes related to exercise, eating and drinking habits.

Tips for early detection.

Perhaps what’s most troubling about the study is that the findings were unique to the 25–39 age group, women who are not typically encouraged to undergo breast cancer screenings. While mammograms are still not generally recommended for women under 40, if you’re a woman in your 20s or 30s, follow these simple tips to ensure the earliest detection possible:

  • Know your breasts. And examine them monthly. If you find something unusual, contact your doctor.
  • Get regular breast exams from your doctor. For women under 40, clinical breast exams should be performed at least every three years, as part of your well-woman visit.
  • Know your risk. If you have family members who have had breast cancer, be sure to tell your doctor so they can recommend screenings/screening intervals specific to your risk factors. Your doctor may also refer you to a breast care specialist who can help to assess your personal risk and may offer interventions, when appropriate, to decrease your risk of breast cancer.

And don’t be afraid to trust your instincts. If something doesn’t feel right, contact your provider. Or call (513) 475-UC4U to speak with someone in our Breast Health program.

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