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Breast cancer in younger women: How does it manifest?

Breast cancer is not age-specific. It can affect young women as well as older women. But does it affect younger women differently?

News reports of singer Sarah Harding’s death at the age of 39 years in early September 2021 following a late breast cancer diagnosis brought breast cancer to the forefront once again. Not only did the news of her passing invoke sadness, but it also brought an awareness that breast cancer can — and does — affect younger women.

Although breast cancer can occur in men, it is most common in women over 50 years of age. Still, younger women are also at risk of the condition.

In this Special Feature, MNT investigates breast cancer in young women and how it differs in younger versus older women. We also talk with two experts about this important topic.

How prevalent is breast cancer in younger women?

The exact age considered “young” for having breast cancer varies. However, most scientific studies refer to younger women with breast cancer as those younger than 35, 40, or 45 years of age.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 255,000 womenTrusted Source and 2,300 men receive a breast cancer diagnosis every year in the United States.
Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related death among women and the leading cause of cancer-related death among Hispanic women. In addition, Black women die from breast cancer more often than white women.
CDC data also show that, in the U.S., 9%Trusted Source of all new breast cancer diagnoses occur in women younger than 45 years of age. Women in this age group are also more likely to experience poor outcomes from the condition.
Furthermore, the mortality risk for young women with breast cancer may vary depending on where they live, according to one study.
In research that appears in the journal Breast Cancer Research and Treatment, scientists examined data looking for differences in breast cancer incidence among women 20–49 years of age. In that age group, around 77% of breast cancer diagnoses occurred in women ages 40–49 years.
The researchers also found that in women younger than 45 years of age, breast cancer occurrence was higher among Black women. Additionally, Black, American or Alaska Indigenous, and Hispanic women had more late stage breast cancer diagnoses than white women.

What types of breast cancer occur in younger women?

Compared with breast cancer in older women, an overview article that appears in the journal Updates in Surgery suggests that breast cancer in younger women:
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