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Adolescents and Young Adults (AYA) with Breast Cancer


Almost 90,000 “young people,” defined as anyone aged 15-39, are diagnosed with cancer each year in the United States according to the American Cancer Society, accounting for about 5 percent of all cancer diagnoses. And among the 25- to 39-year-olds considered “young people,” breast cancer and thyroid cancer are the most common. (NCI’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program Cancer Stat Facts)

So why are there so many AYA cancer diagnoses, yet so little focus on this group as compared to childhood or adult cancers? Young people find themselves in an “in-between” group—there is no specific medical home or doctors specializing in treating the AYA population, a recent study by the National Cancer Institute found, and are often in transition periods in their life without consistent relationships with medical providers. Furthermore, “AYAs have lower enrollment in clinical trials compared with people treated for cancer in childhood or older adulthood,” said Emily Tonorezos, M.D., M.P.H., director of NCI’s Office of Cancer Survivorship.

Typically, in the U.S., breast cancer screenings do not begin until the age of 40. In other countries, it can be as high as 50 or even 55. With no effective breast cancer screening tool yet for women under 40, according to YoungSurvival.org, most young adults find a lump or change in their breast themselves. Routine breast self-exams help you become familiar with how your breasts look and feel so you can be cognizant of any changes that may occur.

A cancer diagnosis at any age is isolating and scary, but as the most underserved community by age, it can be especially so for those in the AYA population who receive a diagnosis. Many are told time and time again that they are wrong and too young for what they are feeling in their body to be cancer. Always remember that the best advocate for yourself and your health, is you. Demand the testing, scans and answers to what you feel going on in your body.

As Adolescents and Young Adults (AYA) Cancer Awareness Week 2021 draws to a close, we've highlighted some resources below to help you learn about breast cancer in the AYA community.

Breast Cancer Statistics in Young Adults

Although breast cancer in young adults is rare, more than 250,000 living in the United States today were diagnosed under age 40. In young adults, breast cancer tends to be diagnosed in its later stages and tends to be more aggressive. Read More.

Breast Cancer In Young Women

Though more common in older adults than younger women, more than 13,000 women ages 40 or under will be diagnosed this year. What are the unique challenges young women with breast cancer face? Read More.

Too Young to Screen: Breast Cancer in Younger Women

If you’re under age 40, which is when it’s recommended that women begin having screening mammograms, you may think you are too young to get breast cancer—but that’s not true. While breast cancer in younger women is rare, it is the most common cancer among women ages 15 to 39. Read More.

Young, High-Risk Women Benefit From Breast Self-Exam Diagnosis

Studies found that a breast self-exam (BSE) can be an important way to find cancer in young women, especially young woman with a higher-than-average risk of developing breast cancer. The results offer another point of view in the ongoing discussion about the role of BSE in breast cancer screening. Read More.

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