More Younger Women Being Diagnosed With Metastatic Breast Cancer

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During the past 30 years, more women ages 25 to 39 were diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer -- from 1.53 cases per 100,000 women in 1976 to 2.90 cases per 100,000 in 2009. This means that about 800 women younger than 40 are diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer each year now, compared to about 250 per year in 1976. While the increase is relatively small, it’s very troubling.

Breast cancer in younger women tends to be more aggressive and harder to treat. Also, routine screening isn’t recommended for women younger than 40.

Metastatic breast cancer is breast cancer that has spread to parts of the body away from the breast, such as the bones or liver. Metastatic breast cancer is considered advanced-stage cancer.

The research was published in the Feb. 27, 2013 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. Read the abstract of “Incidence of Breast Cancer With Distant Involvement Among Women in the United States, 1976 to 2009.”

The researchers looked at information on a number of factors, including breast cancer diagnoses in the United States, age at diagnosis, and stage at diagnosis in three SEER databases. SEER is a large registry of cancer cases from sources throughout the United States maintained by the National Institutes of Health.

The number of cases of metastatic breast cancer diagnosed in women ages 25 to 39 went up by 2.1% per year from 1976 to 2009. Women of all races and ethnicities were affected and the increases happened in urban, suburban, and rural areas. The greatest increase was in women ages 25 to 34. Cases of hormone-receptor-positive metastatic breast cancer increased more than cases of hormone-receptor-negative metastatic breast cancer.

There was no real increase in the number of cases of metastatic breast cancer diagnosed per year for women ages 55 and older for the same time period.

The researchers aren’t sure why more younger women are being diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer and suggested that it’s likely due to a combination of factors. It may be due in part to more women waiting until later in life to have children. Women who haven’t had a full-term pregnancy or have their first child after age 30 have a higher risk of breast cancer compared to women who give birth before age 30. Toxic chemicals in the environment, changes in smoking and drinking habits, and rising obesity rates also may play a role.

While this increase in metastatic breast cancer cases is scary, it’s important to remember that the actual numbers are very small. The researchers pointed out that their results need to be confirmed, possibly by looking at information from other countries to see if the trend exists worldwide.

“So what do we do with this new information?” asked Breastcancer.org President and Founder Marisa Weiss, M.D. “One thing we can address now is the need to know that breast cancer can happen in young women. And if you’re a young woman and notice something that is not quite right -- a lump, breast discharge, redness -- see your physician. Don’t allow your doctor to dismiss your concerns based on your age.”

It also makes sense to keep your risk of breast cancer as low as it can be by adopting a healthy diet and lifestyle, including:

  • eating a diet low in added sugar and processed foods
  • eat a diet rich in unprocessed, nutrient-dense foods
  • exercise regularly at the highest intensity you’re comfortable with
  • avoid alcohol
  • don’t smoke

For more information on other risk-lowering steps you can take, visit the Breastcancer.org Lower Your Risk pages.

You can learn more about the study in Dr. Weiss’s CNN interview with Erin Burnett.

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