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Quick GuideBreast Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment
What Is Different About Breast Cancer in Younger Women?
Diagnosing breast cancer in younger women (under 40 years old) is more difficult because their breast tissue is generally more dense than the breast tissue in older women. By the time a lump in a younger woman's breast can be felt, the cancer often is advanced.
In addition, breast cancer in younger women may be aggressive and less likely to respond to treatment . Women who are diagnosed with breast cancer at a younger age are more likely to have a mutated (altered) BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene.
Delays in diagnosing breast cancer also are a problem. Many younger women who have breast cancer ignore the warning signs -- such as a breast lump or unusual discharge -- because they believe they are too young to get breast cancer.
Many women assume they are too young to get breast cancer and tend to assume a lump is a harmless cyst or other growth. Some health care providers also dismiss breast lumps in young women as cysts and adopt a "wait and see" approach.
Can Breast Cancer in Younger Women Be Prevented?
Although breast cancer may not be prevented, early detection and prompt treatment can significantly improve a woman's chances of surviving breast cancer. More than 90% of women whose breast cancer is found in an early stage will survive.
When women learn at a young age about the risks and benefits of detecting breast cancer early, they are more likely to following the recommendations regarding clinical exams and mammograms . Young women also need to understand their risk factors and be able to discuss breast health with their health care providers.
Should Women Under Age 40 Get Mammograms?
In general, regular mammograms are not recommended for women under 40 years old, in part, because breast tissue tends to be more dense in young women, making mammograms less effective as a screening tool. In addition, most experts believe the low risk of developing breast cancer at a young age does not justify the radiation exposure or the cost of mammography. However, screening mammograms may be recommended for younger women with a family history of breast cancer and other risk factors.