A study published in February 2013 seems to indicate that the incidence of advanced breast cancer in young women is increasing. The study used data from the U.S. National Cancer Institute Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) database and examined the number of women who were diagnosed with breast cancer that had spread to distant sites (like the lungs or brain) by the time of diagnosis.
The researchers studied women of all age groups in the U.S. from 1976 to 2009, but an increase in advanced breast cancer was only apparent in young women (defined as 25- to 39-year-olds for this study). In 1976, there were 1.53 per 100,000 women diagnosed with advanced breast cancer in the 25 to 39 year age group. This increased to 2.90 per 100,000 in 2009. The increase occurred across all races and ethnic groups but was higher in non-Hispanic white and African American women.
At present, there is no explanation for this small but relevant increase, and more research is needed to explain the trend. While this study does highlight the possibility that advanced breast cancer can occur in women of any age, it is important for women to remember that the number of 25- to 39-year-old women with advanced breast cancer is still relatively low compared with the number of older women who are diagnosed. The risk for developing breast cancer increases with age, about two-thirds of breast cancers occur in women over 55.
Benign (harmless) conditions of the breast are more common than breast cancers. Benign diseases of the breast account for many of the abnormalities detected by screening mammograms as well as for many of the changes in breast consistency that women observe.
The 2013 study does not affect current screening recommendations. Women should always consult their health care professional about any changes they notice in their breasts.
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Johnson, R. H., et al. "Incidence of breast cancer with distant involvement among women in the United States, 1976 to 2009." Journal of the American Medical Association 309.8 (2013): 800-805.