Who can get breast cancer?

1 in 8 women are diagnosed with breast cancer.  Even though older women are more likely to get breast cancer, younger women can get breast cancer as well. In younger women, the breast cancer tends to be diagnosed as more aggressive.

As a young woman, it’s important to know the facts about breast cancer, the risk factors and to live a healthy lifestyle. This will put you in better position to take control of your own health. You should learn and understand the signs and symptoms of breast cancer. You should know your family history, and whether anyone has had breast cancer in your family.

Know your body

Perform self-examinations regularly. These examinations are an important key to being your own best advocate. You should see your doctor right away if you find a lump in your breast or notice any of these symptoms: dimpling, rash or itching, nipple discharge, lumps in/on breast or underarm area. Also, you should trust your instincts. If you are uncomfortable with what your provider says, get a second opinion.

Become familiar with your breasts, and know what is normal for you – shape, size, color. You should know how to spot changes to your breasts, and let your medical doctor know immediately if there is a change that concerns you.  Women who are 20 years and older should have a clinical breast exam (CBE) once per year. This is done by a healthcare provider as part of your regular medical check-up.

Breast Self-examinations

It is important to know your body.   It’s not likely that you’ll get breast cancer at a young age, but it’s important to know your body, so that when and if an abnormality occurs, you’re ready to take the right steps to being your best advocate and making “right for you” decisions.   

Also, most women with breast cancer have a high chance of survival is the cancer is detected and treated early. One way to ensure that you catch any abnormal growth early is to perform self-examinations of your breasts regularly.  Starting this habit at a young age will help you know what a healthy breast feels like, and this will help you notice abnormalities faster and easier. You can learn how to perform breast self-examinations here.  Talk to your parent(s) and go see your doctor right away if you find a lump in your breast or notice any of these symptoms: dimpling, rash or itching, nipple discharge, lumps in/on breast or underarm area.  Also, you should trust your instincts. If you are uncomfortable with what your provider says, have a loved one arrange a second opinion.

As a teenage girl, you may want to know about your chances of getting breast cancer. Or you may want to know more about breast cancer because you know someone who has it – such as a family member or a friend.  Or you may want to learn understand how to reduce the chance of getting breast cancer and learn how to check for it. Again, it is rare for a teenager to develop breast cancer, but knowledge is power!

How to Do A Breast Self Exam

Regular breast self examinations are an important key to being your best advocate.

  1. Look at your breast in the mirror.  It is important to know how your breast look and feel.  Doing regular self examinations helps you to get familiar with the size, color, shape and “feel” of your breasts.   important changes to look for  are:  dimpling, puckering, redness, soreness, fluid/discharge, rash or swelling.
  2. Raise your arms and see if you detect any of the changes above.
  3. Lay down and feel your breasts.  Use your left hand to check your right breast and your right hand to check your left breast.  Firmly, apply the pads of your fingers, keeping them flat and in a circular motion, examine your entire breast.  Go from side to side then top to bottom.  Go from your collarbone to where you abdomen starts, then your cleavage to your armpits. Make sure you choose a pattern to make sure you cover the entire breast.
  4. Repeat the same steps when standing or sitting.

Contact your doctor if you feel any of the following:

    • Lump, hard knot or thickening inside the breast or underarm area
    • Swelling, warmth, redness or darkening of the breast
    • Itchy, scaly sore or rash on the nipple
    • Change in the shape/size of the breast
    • Dimpling or puckering of skin
    • Nipple discharge
    • Persistent pain

Factors that can increase your chances of getting breast cancer

  • Gender– Women are at higher risk than men.
  • Aging – Your risk of developing breast cancer increases as you become older. 
  • Genetics – Some breast cancer cases are associated with abnormalities in genes such as BRCA1 and BRCA2.
  • Family history of breast cancer– Breast cancer risk is higher among women who have relatives with this disease.
  • Personal history of breast cancer– If you have cancer in one breast, you have an increased risk of developing a new cancer in the other breast or in another part of the same breast.
  • Race and ethnicity– Breast cancer is more common in African-American women under 45 years of age. However, above 45 years old, white women are slightly more likely to develop breast cancer than are African-American women.
  • Lifestyle-related factors: Breast cancer risk can be higher in women based on their diet, obesity, physical activity, alcohol intake, smoking, chemicals in the environment and other factors.

Reducing your risk

You can reduce your risk of getting  breast cancer by: maintaining a healthy weight, exercising, not smoking, eating healthy food, not drinking alcohol, lowering exposure to environmental chemicals and toxins, and minimizing exposure to radiation to the chest and face.

Early Detection and treatment

Remember – it is not typical to get breast cancer in your teens.  We are providing you this information because knowledge is power and you can make the difference in the life of a friend, family or someone you love, so here’s what you should know. Although we don’t know what causes breast cancer, through early detection and treatment, women can significantly increase their chances of surviving breast cancer. In fact, 90% of women diagnosed with breast cancer survive if their breast cancer is found at an early stage. This is why early detection is key and why it’s important to learn about their breast health early on.

Be your own best advocate

To be your best advocate, you know these things:

  1. It is illegal for an employer to discriminate against you or someone else because you have cancer. If this happens, you can take action, such as through the help of a discrimination lawyer.
  2. It is ok if you wish to take a leave of absence from your job during your breast cancer treatment. In some cases you are allowed up to 12 weeks of unpaid medical leave.
  3. Medical care can be expensive. If you have health insurance, your policy may cover some of the costs associated with your diagnosis, tests and treatment. Be sure to review what is covered under your policy.
  4. It may take some adjustment, but you can work around your treatment. Speak with your medical team about scheduling your doctor visits around your work. You may experience some side effects from the treatment, which may mean that you work less hours, work remotely or delegate some tasks to coworkers.

To learn more about breast health, how you can educate your peers and empower them to become their best advocates, you can join the Peer Education Through Awareness and Leadership (PETALS) program. This educational program teaches young women about their breast health and about conducting breast self-examinations. It also empowers then through lessons on prevention, wellness and body care. 

Learn more

To build a community of your peers who choose to change the way they think and live, who ask the right questions, speak up about their health, educate physicians and become community activists who help to decrease health disparities, we need you. You can make a difference and use your voice. Become a volunteer with Tigerlily Foundation.

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