By: Shelby Nagle, 2018 Spring Communications Intern
I’m sure when you hear the words breast cancer, something comes to mind, whether it’s thinking of a loved one who has battled with the disease or reflecting back to a time where you read an article about it in a magazine. Maybe you even remember hearing a survivor tell the story of their journey. Whatever the case may be, breast cancer may have affected your life.
Something not everyone knows, however, is that although rare, young women can develop breast cancer, too.
In order for me to express the importance of young women being breast self-aware, I would like to share a short story about my beloved grandmother:
My grandparents had just gotten married and three months later my grandma felt a lump forming on her breast. “She was only 23 years old when we found out she had a tumor,” my grandfather told me. Imagine being newly married, excited for all of the future endeavors you’re about to experience, and then one day your world stops. Your mind quickly changes from focusing on your hopes and dreams to fearful thoughts about the future.
It is never easy to hear that you have cancer no matter how old you are. It wasn’t easy for my grandma, nor is it easy for the thousands of people that are told each and every day. Although it is rare for teenagers and young women under the age of forty to develop breast cancer, it is a reality. When many young patients are diagnosed they may ask themselves, “why me,” “why now,” “I don’t understand, I’m young, how can this happen?”
All women are at risk of developing breast cancer. The biggest risk factor of developing this disease is being female. That means it can affect you or a loved one even without a family history, and it may affect you at any age.
Being Breast Self-Aware
It is important to know your body, and to recognize any unusual changes you may notice with your breasts.
Growing up in a family where older women have been affected from breast cancer, found lumps in their breast, and so on, I was raised to always be “breast self-aware.” I would nod along as my grandmother would tell me to always “know my body” and that “you’re never too young.” Now, as a twenty-one year-old woman, I see the importance of knowing every aspect of my body, and I am beyond grateful that she made me realize how important it is to know what is normal for you.
Knowing the Difference
When females develop naturally, they might experience a few things that lead them to believe they are showing signs of breast cancer. For example, many girls will come across a lump in their breast and assume it’s a cancerous tumor. However, many of the cases result in a benign breast tumor or a breast cyst, which is very similar to a pimple that forms under the skin.
No matter what the case may be, it is completely normal to be scared when finding a lump or any deformity on your body, but that’s why it’s always best to, again, know the normal look and feel of your breast, and be able to talk with your doctor about any unusual changes.
Facing the Facts
“Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in women under the age of forty.”
When reading that statistic, I just knew that I had to learn more about the disease. Especially being a young woman who falls under that age category, I wanted to know what I could do in order to prevent myself from developing breast cancer.
Although we know a lot about breast cancer, as of today, we still don’t know what causes breast cancer or any means of preventing this disease. However, we do know that 10,000 women under the age of 40, who live in the United States, will be diagnosed with breast cancer just this year alone.
Luckily, Susan G. Komen devotes four percent of its research investment solely on finding new approaches to prevent breast cancer. It is with great hope that there will be a sure means of preventing this disease one day, hopefully within the near future.
Adopting a Healthier Lifestyle
There are steps you could and should be taking to take control of your health, but it’s also important to realize that cancer has no barriers. Even if you’re regularly active, and believe you are in good shape, there are always ways to better yourself and to make healthier choices.
It is never a bad time to create goals for yourself to become a healthier person, which can ultimately help reduce your risk of developing breast cancer.
1. Know Your Risk
- You should be familiar with your family’s health history, and know that even if no one in your family has battled with breast cancer, you are still at risk for developing it. Talk to your doctor about your risk.
2. Get Screened
- Although Komen Central and South Jersey doesn’t typically recommend that women who fall between the ages of 25–39 routinely get screening mammograms, they do recommend getting a clinical breast exam every three years and talking to your doctor about your family’s history with breast cancer and your personal risk.
3. Know Your Normal
- No one knows your body more than you do. If you experience any untypical pain, discharge, swelling, or feel a lump or hard knot, schedule an appointment with your doctor immediately.
4. Make Healthy Choices
- It is always important to maintain a healthy lifestyle and make positive lifestyle choices, including but not limited to: adding exercise into your daily routine, maintaining a healthy weight, not drinking alcohol in excess amounts, and breastfeeding (if you can and want to)
What’s next? Get involved and be breast self-aware!
If you are a young woman reading this, I just hope that my message touched you in some way or another.
The more I learn about breast cancer and hear the stories about the people and families it affects, I am eager to do everything in my power to help spread awareness of breast cancer.
Every bit of support counts. Learn more about how you can get involved in the fight against breast cancer: komencsnj.org.