When it comes to breast cancer, “young” usually means anyone younger than age 40. Breast cancer is less common among women in this age group, but it can and does happen. In the United States, about five percent of all breast cancer cases occur in women under age 40. While the risk of breast cancer increases with age, all women are at risk for getting breast cancer.
Age is a well established risk factor for breast cancer. The older a woman is, the more likely she is to get breast cancer. Breast cancer diagnosis rates begin to increase after age 40 and are highest in women over age 70. The median age of diagnosis of breast cancer for women in the U.S. is 61.
Diagnosing breast cancer in young women can be more difficult because their breast tissue is often more dense than the breast tissue of older women. By the time a lump can be felt in a young woman, it is often large enough and advanced enough to lower her chances of survival. In addition, the cancer may be more aggressive and less responsive to hormone therapies.
Delayed diagnosis in young women is a problem. Because it is rare for a young woman to get the disease, young women are often told to wait and watch a lump. That’s why it’s important to know what is normal for you. Tell your health care provider if you notice any change in your breasts, and think about getting a second opinion if you are not satisfied with his or her advice.