Breast Cancer in Young People: Causes, Types, Consequences

For decades, many believed that breast cancer only affected older women. The disease typically occurs in women above 40, and the overall risk increases with age. However, young women can develop breast cancer, too. It’s important to understand this misconception and acknowledge that breast cancer does not care about age.

Considering merely 1 in 1,479 women in their 20s get breast cancer, it’s no wonder many young adults think they’re immune to the disease. The American Cancer Society also mentions that “a very small number of women” under 45 get diagnosed with breast tumors. Still, while incidence rates in the younger populations remain low, cancer is not exclusive to women of a certain demographic. In fact, the youngest-known breast cancer patient is not a grown woman; it was a two-year-old child. Also, male breast cancer is real.

a photo of medical professionals holding breast cancer awareness signs

Causes of Breast Cancer in Young Individuals

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains that breast cancer in young men and women is likely inherited from a relative, as opposed to breast cancer in older individuals, which often occurs due to aging, long-term exposure to a carcinogen, and other risk factors. Everyone – especially those with family members who battled breast, prostate, or ovarian cancer – should consult a geneticist about their risk.

In addition, malignant breast tumors in younger individuals are:

  • Most common among women of African-American descent.
  • Often diagnosed at an advanced stage, as most young people do not check themselves for signs of breast cancer.
  • Accompanied by other physical and mental health matters, including but not limited to body image issues, poor sexual health, fertility problems in men and women, and feelings of isolation.


Types of Breast Cancer in Young People

Although younger people can get the same types of breast cancer as older individuals, the most common among patients aged 18 to 45 are:


Invasive Ductal Carcinoma

Invasive ductal carcinoma, also called infiltrating ductal carcinoma or IDC, is the most common breast cancer in men and women. It accounts for 80% of breast cancer cases.

IDC occurs when abnormal cells in the milk ducts grow uncontrollably and spread into surrounding breast tissue. FYI: Men have undeveloped milk ducts. Read Female Versus Male Breast Cancer for further details.


Triple-Negative Breast Cancer

Rare and aggressive, this disease accounts for 10 to 20% of all breast cancers. “Triple-negative” refers to the malignant cells not having estrogen or progesterone receptors. These cancer cells also do not produce any or too much of the HER2 protein.


How Breast Cancer Impacts Young Women and Men

Among the consequences of getting breast cancer at a young age include:


1. Emotional Toll

Receiving a breast cancer diagnosis at a younger age can be emotionally devastating. Young individuals may experience fear, anxiety, depression, and uncertainty about their future. Coping with the psychological toll of a cancer diagnosis can be challenging and may require significant support and resources.

Also read: Weathering the Emotional Storm of Breast Cancer


2. Disruption to Life Plans

Breast cancer in young people can interfere with life plans, including education, career goals, and family planning. Treatment may require taking time off work or school, undergoing surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy, and dealing with the physical and mental side effects. This disruption can impact daily life and long-term aspirations.


3. Fertility Concerns

For the youth diagnosed with breast cancer, fertility preservation is a pressing concern. Treatment options like chemo and hormone therapy can affect fertility, sometimes causing early menopause in women, decreased libido in men, and general infertility in both sexes. If they want to have biological children, they can explore options such as egg freezing or sperm banking.

A word of advice: Patients should not assume that their doctors will ask about fertility concerns. Patients must bring up this topic before beginning treatment to help deal with doubts, fears, and potential fertility problems in the future.


4. Financial Strain

Considering the high cost of cancer care in the United States, dealing with breast cancer at a young age can be extra challenging. Young adults may have limited financial resources, entry-level or low-income careers, and insufficient insurance coverage. The expenses associated with checkups, screenings, treatments, and medications can quickly accumulate, often leading to financial hardship and debt.

Further reading: Price of Survival: Navigating the Cost of Cancer Treatment


5. Social Isolation

Younger women and men with breast cancer may feel socially isolated, as their peers may not understand or relate to their experiences. Many female patients who go bald, gain or lose too much weight, or have drastic changes in their appearance may also develop body image issues and have difficulty facing their loved ones. As for men, many struggle with the stigmatization of male breast cancer. It can spur feelings of embarrassment, shame, or seclusion due to societal perceptions and misconceptions surrounding the disease.

Additional resource: Cancer and Relationships: Navigating Changes in Intimacy, Communication, and Support


6. Long-Term Health Concerns

Young survivors of breast cancer may face long-term health problems and complications. These issues include an increased risk of cancer recurrence, secondary cancers, and chronic side effects from conventional treatments, such as heart problems or osteoporosis. Managing these health concerns requires ongoing medical monitoring.


How Younger People Can Detect Breast Cancer Early

a photo of three women smiling with a pink ribbon around them

Since mammograms and other screenings are not part of young patients’ regular care, their best chance for early detection is to conduct monthly self-exams and see a doctor for symptoms like a palpable lump, nipple discharge, or visible changes in one or both breasts. Genetic testing can also determine whether a person’s likelihood of developing breast cancer is high.

Please read our guide to breast cancer screening for more information.

Finding breast cancer early opens up a wider selection of treatment options. Early-stage breast cancer is highly treatable and may require less aggressive interventions. For example, at New Hope Unlimited, we offer alternatives to traditional approaches, prioritizing personalized care and holistic wellness. From advanced immunotherapy for breast cancer to mind, body, soul therapies and special diets, we tailor treatment plans to meet your exact needs.

Take control of your health and recovery with our compassionate team by your side. Contact us today to discover how New Hope Unlimited can provide comprehensive care and support on your path to remission.

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