Cancer is an old person’s diagnosis — or we often assume it is.
Nearly 10,500 cases of invasive breast cancer are diagnosed each year—and 1,000 women younger than 40 will die from their cancer every year.
When it does happen, it’s shocking and devastating. Young women with breast cancer often face unique challenges and require a different kind of support than older women.
Risk Factors and Detection for Breast Cancer in Young Women
Although cancer in young women is rare, some factors seem to raise the risk of a diagnosis. Some risk factors include:
- A history of close family relatives who have been diagnosed with breast cancer.
- Previous radiation therapy
- Inherited genetic mutation, often in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene
Early detection is important for any cancer, but because the disease isn’t expected at a young age, it may be overlooked. Women may ignore or not look for a lump. Self-breast awareness is the best way to find any changes in your body.
From differences in treatment options to personal situations, dealing with cancer in your 30s or even 20s can be different than at an older age.
Fertility After Breast Cancer
Many young women fear chemotherapy and other cancer treatments will affect their ability to become pregnant in the future.
Discuss fertility in detail with your doctor. Chemotherapy can induce menopause, but you have a range of fertility preservation options that may still allow you to start a family after treatment.
Sex and Dating After Cancer
Whether you’re married or single, having cancer dampens your sex life and can stall your dating life. It’s common to lose interest in sex or to have painful intercourse because of vaginal dryness or other problems caused by treatments. After a mastectomy, women often struggle with body image issues, which affects their feelings about sexuality.
These challenges are common for women of any age undergoing breast cancer treatment, but for young women, they can feel especially acute. This is a good time to bond with friends and remain open to dating if you’re single.
No matter your status, there will be different relationship challenges because of your diagnosis. Give it time and seek the support you need to cope with the emotional stress.
In your 20s and 30s, you’re starting and growing your career. Going through treatment doesn’t have to be the end of your career—many patients are able to work through their treatment.
You may have young children still at home that require a lot of your time and energy. You have to navigate how to talk to your kids about your illness, and you and your spouse may need to redefine roles at home. It’s okay to ask for help from friends, family, and neighbors as you go through treatments.
Coping with Breast Cancer at a Young Age
Having breast cancer at a young age can feel lonely. You share some of the same struggles as other women going through the same illness, but you have your own unique challenges.
It also can be tough to make regular conversation at the kids’ soccer games or school events, as other parents have trouble empathizing with what you’re going through. Counseling and support groups, particularly groups aimed at younger cancer patients and survivors, can help you through the difficult times.