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Breast cancer in young women

4/8/2014, 11:38 a.m.
Most breast cancers are found in women who are 50 years old or older, but breast cancer also affects younger ...

Most breast cancers are found in women who are 50 years old or older, but breast cancer also affects younger women. About 11 percent of all new cases of breast cancer in the United States are found in women younger than 45 years of age.

Who has a higher risk?

Some young women are at a higher risk for getting breast cancer at an early age compared with other women their age. If you are a woman under age 45, you may have a higher risk if:

  • You have close relatives (parents, siblings, or children) who were diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer when they were younger than 45, especially if more than one relative was diagnosed or if a male relative had breast cancer.

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

  • You have an Ashkenazi Jewish heritage.

  • You were treated with radiation therapy to the breast or chest during childhood or early adulthood.

  • You have had breast cancer or certain other breast health problems such as lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS), ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), atypical ductal hyperplasia, or atypical lobular hyperplasia.

  • You have been told that you have dense breasts on a mammogram.

What can I do to reduce my risk?

Breast cancer in a woman under the age of 45 is relatively rare compared to older women, but some women have higher risk for this disease. If you're a woman in this age group, it is important that you:

  • Know how your breasts normally look and feel. If you notice a change in the size or shape of your breast, you feel pain in your breast, or you have nipple discharge other than breast milk (including blood), talk to a doctor right away.

  • Talk to your doctor if you have a higher risk. If you have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer or other risk factors, you should talk to your doctor about ways to manage your risk. If your risk is high, your doctor may suggest that you get genetic counseling and be tested for changes, called mutations, in your BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. Your doctor may also talk to you about getting mammograms earlier and more often than other women, whether other screening tests might be right for you, and medicines or surgeries that can lower your risk.