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Breast cancer is not just an older women’s disease. Although in the western world, less than five percent of breast cancer cases occur in younger women below the age of 40, in Asia and in India, the reported incidence is up to 20 percent. The fact is that the incidence is rising among them. It is anticipated that nearly 50,000 new cases of young breast cancer will be diagnosed each year by the year 2025.
Young women in their 30s and diagnosed with breast cancer, in particular, face a disproportionately higher impact of the disease on their lives. This is both in terms of the prognosis and because they are in their prime dealing with major life events related to their careers, relationships and parenting, among other things.
Since breast cancer screening is not mandated for younger women, the disease is often detected at a later stage, affecting their prognosis. Breast cancers in women in their 30s are also more likely to be more aggressive because they are fast-growing, higher-grade, or are hormone-receptor negative. Plus, there is a higher risk of recurrence and metastasis. Family history and BRCA1,2 gene mutation status must be looked into by these women, especially who present with triple negative breast cancer.
There are other complications. Some chemotherapy treatments can cause infertility or lead to early menopause, for instance. Then, there is the psycho-social and economic toll on younger women in terms of the impact on their finances and careers, relationships and self-image.
That’s not to say women in their 30s with breast cancer should lose hope. Rather, it’s time to double down and face the enemy head-on.
Keeping a positive attitude will help a whole lot, and doing the following things will help you lead a better life.
Recent advancements in therapies are giving new hope to women who are diagnosed with breast cancer and whose cancer is detected even at a later stage. Treatment options depend on the stage of the disease and factors such as size of the tumour, and the results of specific pathology tests like hormone receptors and HER2 receptors, besides the age, general health and family history of the patient.
In general, there are five treatment options, and most treatment plans include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, hormonal and targeted therapy. In early stages of breast cancer, cure rates are in excess of 80 percent. Whole breast removal may not be needed in many cases, if detected early. New treatment options including oestrogen hormone targeting and Her2 neu gene targeting delivers chemo-free and painless treatment. It has been seen to both extend the lifespan and improve the quality of life of patients with Stage 3 and 4 breast cancer.
Women should consult their oncologists on the suitability of treatment options that are available to them and follow the advice of their doctors. Talk to them, voice your concerns and clear any doubts and misapprehensions, and report any developments so that they can take the necessary steps to treat you.
Young women must learn to be aware of the look and feel of their breasts so that they can spot changes not only for early detection of cancer but also to monitor the disease’s progress. Talk to your doctor if you notice any change in the shape of the breast as this may help detect and monitor the tumour’s growth.
Dealing with a diagnosis of breast cancer is hard enough. Dealing with it alone can make it even worse. Young women, who have flown the nest, may find it hard to relinquish their independence. They may also feel guilty about burdening their parents or partners. There is no need to feel guilty as cancer can strike anyone at any age and the causes are not clear. However, a supportive family and friends can play a crucial role in helping you cope with the physical and emotional effects of your illness and help you on the path to recovery.
Cancer does not affect the body alone. Anxiety and depression are common mental health challenges faced by cancer patients and may require professional help beyond family support. Some studies have even linked depression to higher mortality rates among such patients. The physical side effects of the treatment such as nausea, fatigue and menopausal symptoms like hot flushes can also take a toll on a patient’s emotional well-being. For younger women, the trauma is intensified because of concerns about the disease’s impact on their femininity, sexuality and fertility, as well as because they often feel socially isolated given the preponderance of older women battling the disease.
While it is normal to feel angry, sad, hopeless and even fearful of the disease’s return as well as about its impact on your children, it is essential that you don’t let your feelings bog you down. Mental health counselling, which is becoming a part of the treatment of breast cancer in some parts of the Western world, can help younger women deal with the trauma and adopt individualized coping strategies to improve the quality of their lives, both during and post-treatments. So, don’t hesitate to reach out for help from counsellors and support groups, offline and online.
The possible loss of fertility is a big issue for young women suffering from breast cancer. However, there are several fertility preservation options that you can use before starting your breast cancer treatment such as harvesting and freezing eggs, storing embryos, freezing ovarian tissue, in-vitro fertilization, and even hormone suppressing drugs. Similarly, know that you can explore breast reconstruction options after a mastectomy. Under your doctor’s advice, one can also conceive naturally, after two years of staying in remission from breast cancer following treatment.
Also, just as obesity is one of the risk factors for breast cancer, research has shown that even after the disease’s onset, maintaining a healthy weight and exercise can improve the outcomes for young women with breast cancer.