Breast Cancer in Women Younger than 45
- New York City-based YouTuber and lifestyle influencer Tess Christine, 30, had a “gut-wrenching feeling” something was wrong when she discovered a lump in her breast, and she was right.
- A biopsy revealed that the lump was in fact invasive ductal carcinoma, the most common form of breast cancer. Luckily for Tess, it was later discovered that the cancer hadn’t spread elsewhere in her body.
- The CDC reports that breast cancer mostly occurs among older women, but it’s possible for women under the age of 45 — like Tess — to be diagnosed with this type of cancer. In fact, about 9% of all new breast cancer cases in the U.S. are found in women younger than 45.
For Tess, it all started when she felt a lump in her left breast while weaning her nearly year-old son, Theo, off of breastfeeding. (Theo was born to Tess and her partner Patrick, who’s a photographer, in June 2021.) But when she was no longer producing milk and the lump remained, she began to worry, which was underscored by “throbbing pain” in her breast when she got her period.Read More
The young mother of one decided to schedule an appointment with her primary care doctor, who told Tess the lump felt more like a cyst and told her not to fret. But Tess knew something was wrong.
“I still just had this gut-wrenching feeling that something was wrong and I just kept thinking the worst,” Tess said. “And maybe that was because I had Theo, and I was just like, ‘Oh my God, I can’t have cancer. I have this new baby who needs me.’”
Tess knew she needed to advocate for herself, so she pushed for a mammogram (an X-ray picture of the breast to screen for cancer) and sonogram (a computer picture of areas inside the body created by high-energy sound waves). The radiologist called with her results shortly after.
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“My heart just sank because I just knew I was getting called into the consultation room for some reason other than ‘it’s nothing,’” Tess said.
Unfortunately, Tess was right about something being wrong; the lump in her left breast wasn’t a cyst, so it needed to be biopsied.
Shortly after the biopsy, “I got a call that made my world just stop,” Tess said.
She was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma, the most common form of breast cancer. Luckily for Tess, it was later revealed that the cancer hadn’t spread elsewhere in her body. Her treatment plan consisted of a double mastectomy (surgery to remove both breasts) with partial reconstruction, and she’s now waiting to see if she’ll need additional treatment, such as chemotherapy or radiation.
“The best news I could have gotten out of all of this is (that) this is curable and I’m going to be OK, and I’m just so thankful for that,” Tess said.
Breast Cancer in Women Younger than 45
Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC also reports that breast cancer mostly occurs among older women, but it’s possible for women under the age of 45 — like Tess — to be diagnosed with this type of cancer. In fact, about 9% of all new breast cancer cases in the U.S. are found in women younger than 45.
But in some ways, a diagnosis for a younger woman can often be even more devastating, Dr. Ann Partridge, an oncologist at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, told SurvivorNet in a previous interview.
This is because the cancer is likely to be a more aggressive form of the disease and also at an advanced stage, as screening for younger women is not standard.
Luckily for Tess, her cancer was caught early; she discovered the disease before it spread beyond its origin point in her left breast. But her symptoms still began when she was just 30 years old. So if she would’ve waited to get a mammogram, who knows when she would’ve caught her cancer, or what stage it would’ve reached by then.
The point is, it’s possible for young women to get breast cancer, so listening to your body when something doesn’t feel right, like Tess did, is vitally important.
Advocating for Yourself
Breast cancer warrior Tess knew something was wrong with her body, even when her doctor told her the lump in her breast was just a cyst. It’s important to stand up for yourself if you feel that you’re being dismissed or mistreated by a doctor.
“It’s so important to be your own advocate,” Tess said. “If you feel like something is wrong or you feel uncomfortable about a lump or something and you want a test, ask for it.”
“If you ever felt unsure about something or like you wanted to get something checked,” she added, “maybe this is your sign to do so.”
Dr. Zuri Murrell, a colorectal surgeon at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, previously told SurvivorNet that sometimes, patients need to be pushy.
“From a doctor’s perspective, every problem should have a diagnosis, a treatment, a plan for follow-up, and a plan for what happens next if the treatment doesn’t work,” Dr. Murrell said.
And as a patient, “if you don’t feel like each of these four things has been accomplished, just ask! Even if it requires multiple visits or seeing additional providers for a second opinion, always be your own advocate.”