Breast Cancer for Women Under 40 On the Rise
Chicas, if you needed another reason to be vigilant and regular with your breast self exams here it is: According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, since the 1970s the number of younger women (under 40 years old) diagnosed with advanced breast cancer has tripled. ”The increase translates to about 250 cases per year in 1976, and 850 in 2009,” says Rebecca Johnson, medical director of the adolescent and young adult oncology program at Seattle Children’s Hospital; a notable finding for Hispanic women is that while they may have a lower overall incidence rate for breast cancer than other ethnic groups, they have a poor prognosis because of delayed treatment.
While scientists noted that more research would need to be done to know for sure what was driving the increase, one possible explanation may be in biology.
A 2007 study by the Arizona Cancer Center found that Hispanic women have a higher incidence of aggressive breast-cancer compared to non-Hispanic women, attributing it to the fact that 42 percent of Hispanic women with breast cancer lack the estrogen/progesterone receptor that helps cancer medicine to better target and destroy cancer cells. Without the hormone receptor cancer is harder to cure. Thirty-three percent of non-Hispanic women lack the hormone receptor.
The new findings don’t mean you need to get mammography screenings earlier, says Johnson. Many doctors recommend routine screenings beginning at age 40.
For younger Latinas in particular, the answer to earlier breast cancer detection may be found in ultrasound, which uses sound waves to look at the breasts in younger women whose tissue is often too dense for a mammogram. In a study of women ages 30-39, researchers at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance and University of Washington found that ultrasound has a far higher sensitivity for cancer detection than mammography—ultrasound exams found 22 cancers versus 14 by mammography.
No matter your age—under or over 40—these findings emphasize the importance of being aware of breast changes and seeing a doctor as soon as a change is found. Here are 5 steps for doing a self-breast exam in a mirror.
Stand facing the mirror, undressed from the waist up. With your arms relaxed by your sides, look for changes in size, shape, or skin texture.
Put your hands on your hips and press firmly so that you can see how your breasts change when the muscle underneath is flexed. Turn from side to side to inspect the outside of each breast.
Bend forward and roll your shoulders and elbows forward so that your chest muscles tighten. Look for any changes in shape and size.
Clasp your hands behind your head and turn from side to side to inspect the outside of each breast. Again, look for changes in shape and size.
Examine your nipples for discharge, pain or discoloration.