According to a 34-year analyses, although breast cancer is uncommon among women under the age of 40, the rate of advanced breast cancer cases among young women has slightly increased, reports the Associated Press.
The slight change has breast cancer research experts wondering why. Although there was only a minimal increase, it is still alarming because tumors that appear in the breast of young women tend to be more aggressive than they are in older women. In addition to tumor aggression, young women are also less likely to be screened on a consistent basis. Medical director of the teen and young adult cancer program at Seattle Children’s Hospital, Dr. Rebecca Johnson believes that the increase is not the result of a single factor, but multiple causes.
“The change might be due to some sort of modifiable risk factor, like a lifestyle change,” such as frequent exposure to some type of cancer-causing substance, Johnson said.
According to Johnson, the increase translates from about 250 cases of advanced breast cancer in women under 40 in the 1970′s, compared to more than 800 cases in 2009. Nationwide, between 1970 and 2009, the number of cases have increased from 22 million to 30 million.
Other breast cancer research experts suggest that women choosing to get pregnant later on in life could also be a contributing factor, partially due to the tendency of later pregnancies to cause already growing tumors to grow and spread more rapidly, in response to pregnancy hormones. Other possible risk factors include having one to two drinks daily and obesity.
“Young women and their doctors need to understand that it can happen in young women. People shouldn’t just watch and wait,” said 44-year-old Johnson who was diagnosed with early breast cancer at 27 years old.
In general, breast cancer rates have fallen during recent years. As commonly stated, early detection is key.