Women under 40 diagnosed with breast cancer face unique concerns

Published: Jan. 25, 2017 at 4:19 PM EST
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Over the past few years, there has been an increase in the number of young women, age 25 to 39, diagnosed with breast cancer.

The diagnosis of breast cancer can be shocking for anyone, but for younger women facing this battle, it brings up many questions and concerns that affect the entire family.

Yolanda Jenkins and her wife, Deanna, enjoy playing Scrabble with their two daughters. But Yolanda couldn’t find the right words when she received a shocking diagnosis from her doctor.

“He told me I had breast cancer,” said Yolanda.

At age 31, Yolanda and her family faced an uncertain future.

“My kids were the first thing that came to my head," said Yolanda, "Whether or not I could make it for them.”

Dr. Thomas Samuel, a breast oncologist at Cleveland Clinic in Florida, said, “You just don't see someone who is 31 with breast cancer.”

Dr. Samuel says only about two percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer are under 40.

Dr. Samuel said, “When women of that age get diagnosed, there are some different issues that we have to address.”

One of the main concerns for many is preserving fertility, since treatments like chemotherapy and radiation can have an impact.

Dr. Samuel said, “Have the conversation, 'What can I do to preserve my eggs, to preserve my fertility?'”

Young moms like Yolanda also struggle with telling their children about their diagnosis.

“Children are incredibly resilient," said Dr. Samuel, "So most people are surprised when they do finally have that conversation - how supportive they are.”

Another concern younger women face is body image. Yolanda chose to have a bilateral mastectomy to reduce her risk of recurrence. It’s been a difficult journey, but she’s learned to love herself in the process.

“I feel good and I'm glad I didn't give up,” she said, inspiring breast cancer patients of all ages to never stop fighting.

Yolanda finished her cancer treatment and is doing great.



TOPIC: Young Women and Breast Cancer

REPORT: MB #4206

BACKGROUND: When cells in the breast begin to grow out of control, breast cancer occurs. As cells get together they can form a tumor or a lump that can be felt by touch or seen by an X-ray. The tumor becomes malignant –or cancerous- when it invades surrounding tissue or metastasizes to different parts of the body. The American Cancer Society estimates that there were around 245,000 cases of breast cancer in the United States in 2016. About 1 in 12 women will develop this type of cancer during their lifetime. Although breast cancer is typically seen in women, and it’s the second leading cause of cancer death for them, breast cancer can also occur in men.


BREAST CANCER IN YOUNG WOMEN: Breast cancer usually develops in women who are over the age of 50. Surprisingly, over the past few years, there has been an increase of advanced breast cancer in women between the ages of 25 to 39. Even though only 2 percent of women who are diagnosed are under the age of 40, the treatment for fighting the disease can cause more complications and be more aggressive for these women. Usually, it is very hard to diagnose breast cancer in young women because the tissue of the breast is denser than those of elderly women. By the time a young women can feel the lump, the cancer may already be at an advanced stage. Furthermore, because of the tissue density, mammograms are also less effective. The treatment for breast cancer in young women is also more aggressive and less effective. One of the main concerns these women face is persevering fertility since treatments like radiation and chemotherapy can impact it. Another one is body image. If the cancer is already at a stage where radiation and chemotherapy are not effective, a mastectomy may need to take place. (Source:, & Dr. Thomas Samuel)

RISK FACTORS: Breast cancer can really occur at any age so it is important to know what factors can put you at risk in order to always test yourself:

* Your family has a history of breast or ovarian cancer, especially if that family member was a man.

* You have changes in certain breast cancer genes (BRCA1 and BRCA2), or have close relatives with these changes.

* You were treated with radiation therapy to the breast or chest before the age of 40.

* You got your period before the age of 12.

* Heavy alcohol use, high intake of red meat, obesity and your race.

(Source: &


Thomas Samuel, MD


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