October is a month when the entire nation rallies around supporting women affected by breast cancer. For those living with the disease, every month is breast cancer awareness month. It doesn’t go away at the end of October. So this year, I’m asking you to do a little bit more—to learn the facts and take action to help change the statistics.
Right now, breast cancer is officially an epidemic, with an annual increase in incidence of 3.1%. Young women make up 33% of global diagnoses, and women of reproductive age are dying from breast cancer at an annual increase of 1.8% per year. Yes, young women can and do get breast cancer. And in the United States, this year alone more than 12,000 women under 40 will be diagnosed.
Here are nine things you probably don’t know about breast cancer, but should.
- Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women ages 15-39. And yet, breast cancer in young women is rarely studied. We have only made incremental strides toward understanding the environmental factors (internal and external) that cause breast cancer in young women and how to best treat them.
- There is no effective breast cancer screening tool for women under 40, most of whom have dense breast tissue that prevents routine mammograms from being a useful screening tool. Nearly 80% of young women diagnosed with breast cancer find their breast abnormality themselves.
- More and more evidence tells us that breast cancer before age 40 differs biologically from the cancer faced by older women.(1) This means we need different treatment options.
- Breast cancer in women under 40 is more aggressive. Young women face greater mortality rates and an increased risk of metastatic (or stage IV) recurrence, which is when cancer spreads to other parts of the body.
- There is no cure for metastatic breast cancer. Every year, more than 1,000 women under age 40 die from breast cancer.
- Breast cancer treatments like chemotherapy negatively affect fertility. Doctors don’t always discuss the potential fertility risks with their young patients before treatment, but they should.
- Breast cancer treatment brings unique, significant side effects for young women, including the possibility of early menopause, sexual dysfunction and a higher prevalence of psycho-social issues like anxiety and depression.
- Breast cancer disproportionately affects young African American women. African American women under age 35 have rates of breast cancer two times higher than Caucasian women under age 35, and they die from breast cancer three times as often.
- Vice President Biden’s Moonshot Advisory Panel recently issued its top ten opportunities in cancer research. While identifying pediatric cancer as an appropriate area to focus, it completely overlooked and failed to mention adolescent and young adults (AYAs), ages 15 to 39.
This October, Young Survival Coalition is on a mission to turn awareness into action to change the statistics. To drive the medical and research communities to focus more research on women under 40—especially those with metastatic breast cancer—to ensure that young women stop dying from this disease.
We’re collecting 12,000 signatures to support our #12Ktoomany initiative, representing the 12,000 young women who will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year. In January, we’ll present it to the new President of the United States. Whether you are a young woman diagnosed with breast cancer, love a young woman diagnosed with breast cancer, or just care about putting a stop to this disease, I hope you’ll sign. It only takes a minute, and it can make a huge difference.
To sign the petition, visit petition.youngsurvival.org.
For Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we also partnered with renowned photographer, Spencer Kohn, on a photo series where breast cancer survivors confront their struggles. In their portraits, we see the external: the face that society sees. Strong, beautiful, but a mask. When they look in the mirror, we see the truth—a reflection of breast cancer’s collateral damage on these young women.
Zach Jopling, a Brooklyn-based DP and editor, captured the stories and experiences of these breast cancer survivor models.
Sign our petition to raise your voice in support of young women facing breast cancer.
About Young Survival Coalition
Young Survival Coalition (YSC) is the premier organization dedicated to the critical issues unique to young women and breast cancer. YSC works with survivors, caregivers and the medical, research, advocacy and legislative communities to increase the quality and length of life for women diagnosed with breast cancer ages 40 and younger.
1.) Ann H. Partridge et al., “Breast Cancer in Younger Women,” Diseases of the Breast (4th ed.,), In J. Harris (Ed.) (2010): 1073-1083.