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Breast cancer in young women

Over 800 young women will be diagnosed with breast cancer each year in Australia.

That’s more than two women under 40 years old each day.

Because it’s relatively uncommon, symptoms of breast cancer in young women – such as a lump or breast pain – can often be ignored or dismissed. Routine mammographic screening is not offered to women under the age of 40, as the evidence shows it is not effective in this group. That’s because younger women have denser breast tissue. This shows up on mammograms as white (indistinguishable from tumours which also show up as white).

A breast cancer diagnosis can come as a huge shock to young women & put a disproportionate burden of impact on their lives.

It hits them during their childrearing and raising years and can affect their ability to work.

Young women are typically diagnosed with more aggressive breast cancers than older women, and are at higher risk of the cancer spreading to other parts of the body. They have a higher chance of the breast cancer returning and are more likely to die from the disease than older women diagnosed with breast cancer, regardless of the stage of the cancer.

Because young women are commonly diagnosed with more aggressive breast cancers, their treatment is often more aggressive. These treatments can result in physical and psychological changes that can affect their future and quality of life. For example, treatment for breast cancer usually includes radiation therapy which causes permanent damage eggs stored in the ovaries, leading to infertility and triggering early menopause.

As such, young women’s needs are very different to older women.

In 2014, NCBF compiled a report, Not Just an Older Woman’s Disease: Breast Cancer in your 20s and 30s, to highlight the disproportionate burden they face when diagnosed. NBCF has partnered with the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) with the aim of improving the level of information at the original point of contact –GPs – so that breast cancer may be detected earlier when treatment options are most effective and useful advice is on offer for worried young women.