Under Age 30 at Diagnosis
Reviewed by: Carey K. Anders, MD
Finding out in your teens or 20s that you have breast cancer may disrupt school, college, early work life or relationships. It can leave you feeling isolated from others your age and wondering if anyone like you is going through the same thing.
As a young adult woman with breast cancer, your challenges and needs are distinct, even from those of “older” young women.
Very Young Women With Breast Cancer
Only about 1 percent of all breast cancers happen in women younger than 30 years old, yet it is the most frequently diagnosed cancer in women of that age group.
Some factors increase breast cancer risk in teen and young adult women.
Family history is a strong influence in young women’s diagnoses. Your risk is greater if you havea mother, father, grandmother, sister, brother, aunt or uncle who was diagnosed with breast cancer. A diagnosis in a first-degree blood relative (parent,sibling, child) increases your risk more than history in other close relatives.
- having a blood relative who was diagnosed before age 30 raises your risk of getting breast cancer while very young
- you may inherit from either your mother or father a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation, increasing your risk of breast cancer
- mutations in BRCA1, BRCA2 or TP53 genes are found in about half of women with a significant family history of breast cancer
- BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations are more likely in younger women compared with those diagnosed when older (after menopause)
- TP53 mutation (Li-Fraumeni syndrome) is rare but causes breast cancer in very young women
- you may have a BRCA or TP53 genetic mutation even without a family history of breast cancer
Talk with a genetic counselor to understand the impact of your personal family health history on your risk of getting breast cancer. Find out more in LBBC’s Guide to Understanding Genetics and Family Risk Assessment.
Other risk factors
- young age and pregnancy
- 10 to 20 percent of breast cancers under age 30 are diagnosed during pregnancy or in the first year after giving birth
- multiple births heighten risk by raising hormonal levels for several months after each pregnancy
- recent use of oral contraceptives (birth control pills)
- increases exposure to hormones
Disease characteristics that can affect very young women include
- breast cancer diagnoses that may be more aggressive
- estrogen receptor-negative (ER-), progesterone receptor-negative (PR-) and HER2-positive disease
- triple-negative (ER-, PR-, HER2-) breast cancer, which is more common in young women, especially African-Americans
- higher stage or grade of disease, due to lack of monitoring in very young women
Parents, Family and Friends
Some young women say the hardest part of receiving a breast cancer diagnosis is telling their mothers and fathers. They worry about the distress their parents will feel on hearing the news.
Often with good intentions, some parents rush in to take over managing care. Others may be less intrusive, helping at medical appointments or with babysitting, cooking and errands. For very young women living on their own, or independent but living at home, it can be difficult to feel dependent on parents again, even for a short time.
Siblings can be strong supports, but long-standing conflicts may create problems. Extended family members, such as cousins, might provide help with less emotional intensity. Friends or acquaintances sometimes act like extended family, especially for young women who live far from relatives.
Going through diagnosis and the demands and side effects of treatment may strengthen a relationship with a steady or live-in partner, or spouse. The stresses also can cause that relationship to end.
Women who are very young when diagnosed with breast cancer may have added psychosocial concerns, including
- being single, with no partner or family nearby to help
- having small children to care for
- risk of infertility from treatment
- need to preserve fertility right away, although not necessarily thinking about having a child yet
- fertility preservation can be costly
- adjusting to the possibility of never having children
- losing or not getting a job due to diagnosis or treatment
- effects on school progress
- inadequate or no health insurance or financial instability
- emotional health
LBBC’s Breast Cancer Helpline at (888) 753-LBBC (5222) can connect you with a young woman who faced a situation similar to yours and who understands. Helpline volunteers offer peer support, information and hope.
The Young Women section of lbbc.org brings you news, personal stories, breast cancer information, expert advice and other resources created specifically for young women affected by breast cancer.
This article was supported by Cooperative Agreement Number DP11-1111 from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.