6 Things You Should Know About Breast Cancer in Your 20s

A new book about breast cancer offers hopeful news about prevention: you‘re not doomed if your mom had it, you don‘t need to chug green juice and survival rates for early-diagnosed cases are better than ever

The New Generation Breast Cancer Book by Elisa Port, chief of breast surgery at the Mount Sinai Hospital in NYC, has arrived just in time for breast cancer awareness month. The book covers the latest advances in treatment and helps women sift through the overwhelming amount of information now available. Even if you’re in your 20s and unlikely to be one of the 25,000 Canadian women diagnosed with the disease, solid intel is a powerful tool for prevention. Here, six things we learned from Port’s book.

Eliza Port breast cancer in your 20s

The New Generation Breast Cancer Book, Penguin Random House Canada, $26

If you have a family history of breast cancer, memorize this math
Doctors now advise most women to start regular breast cancer screening in the form of an annual or bi-annual mammogram by age 40. But that prescription changes if you have a family history of the disease, says Port. If your mother had breast cancer, then most doctors advise you to start screening a full ten years before the age your mother was when she was diagnosed. So, if your mother was diagnosed at 37, start screening at 27. If she was 47, start at 37.

Don’t be fooled by the genetic connection, though

Most women are under the impression that a family history or genetic predisposition is the most significant factor that influences whether or not they’ll be diagnosed with breast cancer. “Here’s a lesser-known fact,” writes Port, “80-90 percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer have no pre-existing risk-factors—no family history, no genetic issue…We are all at risk and that’s why appropriate screening is relevant to all women.”

Screening has gone high tech
Increasingly, innovative breast centres are offering 3-D mammograms, which provide a more detailed view and are better able to perceive trouble through dense breast tissue. If you suspect you have a lump that needs checking out, Port advises you to ask that your mammogram be scheduled at a centre that specializes in breast screening to ensure you get the best tech.

Think long-term about your health
Forget reducing sugar or amping up your so-called cancer-preventing supplements. Instead, think more practically about your health, says Port. The only serious lifestyle factor that appears to be associated with an increased risk of breast cancer is obesity, which she says, “actively increases your risk of breast cancer.” Same goes for heavy and consistent alcohol intake. If you’re in your 20s this is a good time to adopt habits that contribute to a healthy body weight.

Mastectomies aren’t obligatory
A breast cancer diagnosis doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll have to undergo a mastectomy. Some women will benefit more from a lumpectomy (where the tumor and some breast tissue are removed) and radiation combination, while others will benefit more from a partial mastectomy or bilateral mastectomy. Most significant, however, is the fact that when it comes to survival rates there is no significant difference between the options, says Port.

Speaking of survival rates…

A diagnosis, while initially terrifying, is no longer a death sentence. Quite the contrary for the majority of women who are diagnosed early each year, says Port, which should offer some comfort: “Survival rates currently approach 90 percent.”

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