Recent research has disclosed metastatic breast cancer risks are increasing for women under the age of 40.
The Journal of the American Medical Association published study found advanced cases of the disease have increased by 1.37 occurrences per 100,000 women between 25 to 34 years of age over the analyzed 34 years, jumping from 1.53 in 1975 to 2.9 in 2009.
Researchers used statistical data from a SEER Cancer Statistics Review from 1975 to 2009, of the US National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance Epidemiology and Ends Results registries, to determine the breast cancer rate. Over 900,000 cases of women with breast cancer were reviewed.
A difference of 1.37 may not appear to be a significant upsurge over three decades, but medical researchers are concerned about the statistical progression. Diagnosis of a late stage metastatic cancer means there is a diminished chance of survival. It is an especially pernicious type, having metastasized or proliferating to other organs like the liver or lungs, making it particularly difficult to treat.
The five-year survival rate for 20 to 34-year-olds diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer is 31 percent compared with 87 percent for women with less aggressive forms of the disease.
Breast cancer is not as common in younger women. Nearly 1.8 percent of all cases are diagnosed in women from 20 to 34 and 10 percent in women from 35 to 44. However, when it does occur, the disease tends to be more fatal in younger women than in older ones.
According to the Mayo Clinic, some breast cancers are sensitive to the hormones naturally produced in the body, such as estrogen and progesterone. Younger women have higher, or healthier, levels of these hormones.
Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer for the national office of the American Cancer Society, says further studies are needed in order to determine an exact cause for the increase. Lichtenfeld did speculate toxic environmental exposures and changes in lifestyles over the last three decades could be partially to blame. As for the results of the study, he said:
“This study reinforced the message, know your body better than anyone else does. If there is a lump on the breast … swelling in the breast, discharge from the nipple, redness in the skin of the breast, or unexplained pain in the breast, see your doctor.”
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