Breast cancer in women younger than 40 isn’t common – about 7% of all breast cancer in the United States is diagnosed in women in this age group. Still, breast cancer diagnosed in younger women is likely to be more aggressive or metastatic at diagnosis and women in this age group have worse survival compared to older women.
Because the numbers of young women diagnosed with breast cancer are small compared to women of other age groups, younger women are less likely to participate in clinical trials.
To help address the unique challenges faced by young women diagnosed with breast cancer, The Young Survival Coalition organized a research think tank meeting in February 2013. The report that came out of that meeting was published in the March 16, 2015 issue of the Journal of Adolescent and Young Adult Oncology. Read the abstract of “Breast Cancer in Young Women: Research Priorities. A Report of the Young Survival Coalition Research Think Tank Meeting.”
The report calls for changes and more research in a number of areas, including:
- Developing a large registry focused on young women diagnosed with breast cancer that includes clinical information on outcomes and side effects from specific treatments, as well as information on the sites of metastases, genomic information on the cancer, and fertility and pregnancy after breast cancer treatment.
- Urging researchers to collect clinical trial information by a woman’s age rather than by menopausal status.
- Conducting more research on breast cancer risk factors in young women. For example, obesity is a well-known risk factor for postmenopausal breast cancer, but much evidence suggests that obesity doesn’t increase the risk of breast cancer in premenopausal women.
- A deeper understanding of the relationship between the age at which a woman is exposed to a harmful substance (such as alcohol or tobacco smoke) and later breast cancer risk.
- Figuring out if doctors treat breast cancer in young women more aggressively and whether this affects mortality.
- After considering the type, grade, and stage of the breast cancer, figuring out if breast cancer in young women deserves more aggressive treatment.
- Studying whether the breast cancer itself in young women is more aggressive versus the surrounding microenvironment in the body (greater breast density, more hormones, etc.) that causes the breast cancer to act more aggressively.
- Conducting more research on the long-term side effects of breast cancer treatment, including premature menopause, heart problems, lung problems, and increased risk of other cancers.
- Conducting more research on the psychosocial effects of breast cancer in young women, including establishing/maintaining a career; raising children; sexuality and body image; economic concerns; and relationships with partners, friends, and family members.
- Conducting more research on the risk of infertility after breast cancer treatment, tracking rates of infertility by age and treatment regimen, as well as research on the safety and effectiveness of fertility preservation techniques and the safety of post-treatment pregnancy for both mother and child.
- Conducting more research to figure out which young women are at highest risk for metastatic disease, including research on lifestyle factors, risk factors, and the tumor microenvironment.
- A greater understanding of the psychosocial effects of being diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer at a young age, including child rearing, economic issues, and family relationships.
If you’re a young women diagnosed with breast cancer, you and your doctor will develop a treatment plan that takes into account all the aspects of your unique situation, including:
- the characteristics of the cancer
- any other health issues you have
- your personal beliefs and preferences
You also may want to ask your doctor if you would be a good candidate for a clinical trial. To learn more, visit the Breastcancer.org Clinical Trials pages. And stay tuned to Breastcancer.org for the latest information about research on breast cancer in younger women.