When Young Girls Get Breast Cancer

Girl in hospital gown

Breast cancer is seen as a disease of older woman, but young women CAN and DO get breast cancer. Just ask Nicole Syre, who was diagnosed at 17!

Many women assume they are too young to get breast cancer so when they feel a lump, they blow it off as a harmless cyst or other growth. Some health care providers dismiss breast lumps in young women as cysts and adopt a "wait and see" approach. Thankfully for Nicole, she was smart enough to tell her mom and her doctor refused to wait and see.

Her doctor did a needle aspiration on the lump, and the biopsy that followed revealed that Nicole had a malignant tumor. In the blink of an eye, Nicole’s thoughts went from planning prom, powder-puff football and a spring break trip to Mexico, to scheduling a lumpectomy and 6 weeks of radiation, and the reality that she was probably going to lose her hair.

“Now things were beginning to get difficult. I began to realize something was really wrong and I was about to have a tough road ahead of me. Imagine going to school everyday and having to deal with a million other high school kids acting as if you were dying!”

The surgery went well and showed the cancer hadn’t spread so after a few months Nicole’s life went back to normal, but it didn’t stay that way for long.

At 26, test results on a small lump found in her left breast revealed that Nicole had atypical lobular Hyperplasia, a lesion that put her risk of reoccurrence a bit higher.

“I was kind of scared at this point, but mostly I was angry! I came to the realization that this is what it is going to be like for the rest of my life...doctors, hospitals, surgery, tests, etc. and that made me upset. I was tired of that and tired of worrying all the time.”

Nicole was planning a wedding and motherhood with her boyfriend of seven years, and was mortified at the thought of another battle with cancer.

“I was so confused, but at the same time so sure of some things. I was sure that I wanted this to end and I was sure that I was going to beat this first. I knew that the cancer had not come back at this time, but it could, which made me think of my future.”

She opted to have a bilateral prophylactic mastectomy. A surgeon removed all of her breast tissue in an attempt to prevent the disease from re-occurring.

Nicole has never looked back. “I know that I made the best choice for me and I don't regret it at all.” Nicole isn’t the first to take such drastic measures.

Actress Christina Applegate had both breasts removed in 2008 in an effort to prevent her breast cancer from returning. Prior to her double mastectomy, Applegate had two lumpectomies which revealed cancer in one breast. She also took a gene test that showed she had the BRCA1 gene mutation which makes breast cancer and ovarian cancer more likely.

The Scary Facts

  • Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in women ages 15 to 54.
  • More than 250,000 women living in the U.S. were diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 40 or under.
  • Approximately 10,000 young women will be diagnosed in the next year.

Despite These Realities...

  • The mammogram, a breast screening tool for women over 40, isn’t an effective screening exam for younger women.
  • Diagnosing breast cancer in younger women (under 40 years old) is more difficult because their breast tissue is generally more dense than the breast tissue in older women.
  • By the time a lump in a younger woman's breast can be felt, the cancer often is advanced.
  • In addition, breast cancer in younger women may be aggressive and less likely to respond to treatment.
  • These factors combine to cause higher mortality rates in young women diagnosed with breast cancer.
  • Because the incidence of young women with breast cancer is much lower than in older women, young women are underrepresented in most research studies.

What can you do?

  • Encourage young women to become advocates for their own health and become educated about breast cancer.
  • Learn how to perform a self breast exam! Feel a lump in your breast? Don’t ignore it and don’t let your doctor ignore it either!

Save a life today. It's as easy as getting your cheek swabbed! GO


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