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I’m under 40. Should I worry about getting breast cancer?

Published on | Eric Brown

Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in women who are pregnant or have recently given birth, occurring once in every 3,000 pregnancies. An estimated 30 percent of all breast cancer in young women is diagnosed within a few years after a woman has a baby.

Younger women usually don’t think about getting breast cancer because their risk is much lower than older women. However, about 11 percent of all new breast cancer cases in the US are detected in women under the age of 45. More importantly, when breast cancer is diagnosed at a young age (under the age of 40), it can be more aggressive and fast-growing.

Often, a breast cancer diagnosis is delayed in younger women because they don’t think it can happen to them and they ignore the warning signs – a breast lump, a harmless cyst or an unusual discharge, for example. By the time a lump in a younger woman’s breast can be felt, the cancer may be advanced. Also, younger women tend to have denser breasts, and diagnosing breast cancer is more difficult.

That is why knowing your personal risk factors and taking preventive steps are important no matter how old you are.

Here are a few risk factors that can place younger women at a higher risk:

  • Personal history of breast cancer or noncancerous breast disease
  • Family history of breast cancer, particularly in a mother, daughter or sister
  • History of radiation treatments to the chest before the age of 40
  • Having a specific genetic defect such as a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation (the BRCA genes help fix damaged DNA and when they are altered, the DNA in cells can change in ways that lead to an increased risk for breast cancer. Women who carry defects with either of these genes are at greater risk for developing breast cancer)
  • Getting your period before the age of 12
  • Heavy alcohol use, high intake of red meat, dense breasts, obesity, race

Young women with breast cancer face different challenges.

Some of the unique challenges and issues young women face include:

  • The possibility of early menopause and sexual dysfunction brought on by breast cancer treatment
  • Fertility issues  –  breast cancer treatment can affect a woman’s ability and plans to have children
  • Raising small children while undergoing treatment
  • Heightened concerns about body image

Research shows that African American women under the age of 35 may face even greater challenges. Here are a few:

  • Risk of getting breast cancer is two times higher than Caucasian women under the age of 35
  • African American women under the age of 35 die from breast cancer three times as often as Caucasian women of the same age
  • Young African American women are more likely to get aggressive forms of breast cancer than anyone else

Can young women screen for breast cancer?

The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends that all women age 20 and older conduct monthly breast self-examinations.

  • Know your breasts and how they look and feel.
  • Report any changes to your family physician.
  • Have an annual clinical breast exam beginning at the age of 20 (annual screening mammograms are recommended starting at age 40). Women under age 40 who have a family history or other risk factors for breast cancer should discuss their risk and an appropriate screening schedule with their health care provider.

How is breast cancer treated in younger women?

In general, treatment recommendations for young women are the same for most women diagnosed with breast cancer. Treatment options include a lumpectomy, which involves removing the lump and some surrounding tissue, or a mastectomy, which is the removal of a breast. Radiation therapy is generally used following a lumpectomy, and chemotherapy and/or hormone therapy often are recommended after surgery to help destroy any remaining cancer cells and prevent recurrence.

At Comprehensive Breast Care, we will discuss all treatment options with you thoroughly to help you decide which treatment will be the best choice for you.

Can breast cancer in younger women be prevented?

Although breast cancer may not be prevented, early detection and prompt treatment significantly can increase a woman’s chance of survival. The good news is that more than 90 percent of women whose breast cancer is found at an early stage will survive.

Our team will support you every step of the way – from diagnosis through treatment and recovery.

Authors: Eric Brown, MD, FACS; and Linsey Gold, DO, FACOS, FACS

About the Authors

Eric Brown, MD, FACSEric Brown, MD, FACS, has been caring for breast patients for 20 years. He is board certified in General Surgery and certified in Breast Ultrasound. He previously served as Director of Oncology Services at Beaumont Hospital in Troy, and also as Director of the Center for Breast Health at Beaumont – Troy. Dr. Brown is an Assistant Professor of Surgery at the William Beaumont Oakland University School of Medicine. He is actively involved in research and serves as the Co-Principle Investigator of the Beaumont Cancer Institute Clinical Oncology Research Program. He was voted top breast cancer doctor for 2015 by Newsweek Magazine, and has been named a “Top Doc” for Metro Detroit by Hour Detroit Magazine for the past eight years.


Linsey Gold, DO, FACOS, FACSLinsey Gold, DO, FACOS, FACS, is a fellowship trained breast surgeon who has been caring for breast patients since 2006. She has been certified in Breast Ultrasound since 2007. She was named the first Director of the Comprehensive Breast Center at Genesys Regional Medical Center in 2006 where she served for three years. After that, she opened her own private practice – the Michigan Center for Breast Health. She is actively involved with the American Society of Breast Surgeons and is an investigator and participant in a number of clinical trials, under the oversight of the National Cancer Institute. Dr. Gold serves on several national breast cancer organizations including the Breast Surgery Fellowship Site Review Committee, where she has been representing the American Society of Breast Surgeons since 2007. 


Dr. Brown and Dr. Gold work at Comprehensive Breast Care at 4967 Crooks Road in Troy. To reach the physicians, call 248.687.7300.

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