Report Highlights Challenges of Young Women Diagnosed with Breast Cancer

By Petrina Smith
Wednesday, 10 September, 2014

A new 'pull no punches' report by the National Breast breast cancer Cancer Foundation is drawing attention to the unique challenges faced by the 800 young women diagnosed with breast cancer in Australia each year.

The report, "Not Just an Older Woman’s Disease: Breast Cancer in your 20s and 30s", was co-created by young women and includes evidence-based information and resources which highlight what it means for women under 40 to go through diagnosis and treatment for breast cancer.

The report acknowledges and addresses six key issues identified by young women themselves: detection and diagnosis; employment, career and finances; self-image and sexuality; fertility and childbearing; fear of recurrence, feeling isolated and impact on relationships.

According to Carole Renouf, National Breast Cancer Foundation CEO, one of the authors of the report, breast cancer in young women has been described by those who treat it as ‘a tragedy’ and ‘a lethal disease’. “Women under 40 don’t see breast cancer coming – it is perceived as an older woman’s disease. The types of breast cancer these young women get are often far more aggressive, with a much poorer prognosis,” she said.

“Breast cancer has an enormous impact on a young woman’s sense of self, future childbearing, employment and career, relationships and more for many years to come. Young women are also at greater risk of recurrence and of dying, with the cancer spreading from the breast to other organs.”

“The National Breast Cancer Foundation is committed to raising awareness that breast cancer can occur in young women and to improving outcomes for them – through the research we fund. And more research is required. These women stand to lose so much, and we as a society stand to lose so much by losing them."

“It’s so important that without scaring anyone, young women themselves, their health professionals and loved ones are made aware of the possibility that breast cancer can visit.. And that their employers are aware of what this means, and the significance of providing a supportive workplace. Prior to this project, there was no comprehensive Australian publication in Australia on the issues of young women and breast cancer,” said Ms Renouf.

NBCF undertook a comprehensive international review of the scientific literature and conducted qualitative research with young women across Australia (ranging from someone diagnosed 12 years ago to someone diagnosed 12 months ago) – many of whom agreed their stories could be shared so that other young women affected would not feel so alone.

Report at a glance:

  • Nearly 800 young women will be diagnosed with breast cancer each year in Australia – that is more than 2 women each day. By 2020, 830 young women are predicted to be diagnosed with breast cancer in Australia each year.

  • In 2010 14,181 women were diagnosed with breast cancer in Australia; 767 of these were women under 40 years old.

  • Because it’s relatively uncommon, symptoms of breast cancer in young women – such as a lump or breast pain - can often be ignored or dismissed. Routine mammographic screening is not offered to women under the age of 40, as the evidence shows that it is not effective in this group.

  • Young women tend to think they are ‘bullet proof’. They are often fit and active, with no discernible risk factors. Because of this, receiving a diagnosis of breast cancer comes as a huge shock to the young woman, her family and friends.

  • Young women are typically diagnosed with more aggressive breast cancers than older women, and are at higher risk of the cancer spreading to other parts of the body. They have a higher chance of the breast cancer returning and are more likely to die from the disease than older women diagnosed with breast cancer, regardless of the stage of the cancer.

  • Because young women are commonly diagnosed with more aggressive breast cancers, their treatment is often more aggressive. These treatments can result in physical and psychological changes that can affect their future and quality of life.

  • The role of family history in breast cancer in young women can be overestimated. Family history only explains a maximum of 15% of breast cancers in young women.

 NBCF is encouraging young women in Australia to download the report and share their powerful and personal experiences of breast cancer at
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