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Advanced Breast Cancer Rates Increase Among Young Women

Over the last three decades, the number of women between the ages of 25 and 39 with advanced breast cancer has increased.

The Journal of the American Medical Association published a study which found that advanced cases went from 1.53 per 100,000 women in 1976 to 2.9 per 100,000 in 2009. That is an increase from about 250 cases per year to more than 800 cases in 2009.

The study found the increase significant in that it involved cancer that had already spread to other organs like the lungs or liver by the time it was diagnosed, decreasing the chance of survival.

Researchers are recommending that young women see a doctor quickly if they notice lumps, pain or other changes in the breast, and not to assume that they cannot have breast cancer because they are young and healthy, or have no family history of the disease.

The study is based on information from 936,497 women who had breast cancer from 1976 to 2009. Of those, 53,502 were 25 to 39 years old, including 3,438 who had advanced breast cancer, also called metastatic or distant disease.

Younger women were the only ones in whom metastatic disease seemed to have increased, the researchers found.

Breast cancer is not common in younger women. About 1.8 percent of all cases are diagnosed in women from 20 to 34, and 10 percent in women from 35 to 44. However, when it does occur, the disease tends to be more deadly in younger women than in older ones. Researchers are not sure why.

However, researchers are not recommending screenings or mammography at an earlier age than suggested, as there is no evidence screening helps younger women who are at average risk for the disease.

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Source: The New York Times, “Advanced Breast Cancer May Be Rising Among Young Women, Study Finds,” Feb. 26, 2013.

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