Younger women generally do not consider themselves to be at risk for breast cancer. However, breast cancer can strike at any age: 5% of breast cancer cases occur in women under 40 years of age.
There are several factors that put a younger woman at higher risk for developing breast cancer, including:
- A personal history of breast cancer or a high risk lesion found by biopsy
- A family history of breast cancer, particularly at an early age
- A family history that is concerning a genetic syndrome that may put them at a higher risk for breast cancer.
- History of radiation therapy to the chest
- A known genetic mutation conferring a high risk for the development of breast cancer
What is different about breast cancer in younger women?
- Diagnosing breast cancer in younger women (under 40 years old) is more difficult because their breast tissue is generally denser than the breast tissue in older women, and routine screening is not recommended.
- Breast cancer in younger women may be more aggressive and less likely to respond to treatment.
- Women who are diagnosed with breast cancer at a younger age are more likely to have genetic mutations predisposing them to breast and other cancers.
- Younger women who have breast cancer may ignore the warning signs—such as a breast lump or unusual discharge—because they believe they are too young to get breast cancer. This can lead to a delay in diagnosis and poorer outcomes.
- Some healthcare providers may also dismiss breast lumps or other symptoms in young women or adopt a “wait and see” approach.
- Breast cancer poses additional challenges for younger women as it can involve issues concerning sexuality, fertility, and pregnancy after breast cancer treatment.
If we pay close attention to all these factors, we can imagine how stressful even the diagnosis of breast cancer can be for a woman under 50. The treatment, post treatment care and fear of recurrence can impose even more stress and make their life very painful.
Why is it so stressful for women under 50?
Being diagnosed with breast cancer is considered to be a potential traumatic experience, which may overcome the ordinary adaptive abilities of an individual and can produce various emotional reactions, symptomatic manifestations and psychological discomfort. These aspects can challenge femininity and cause anxiety, depression, guilt, isolation and distrus.
Women under 50 are at a higher risk of having traumatic outcomes or at a greater risk of developing posttraumatic stress disorder compared with older women. Breast cancer is a traumatic stressor for younger women because it is often more aggressive, lethal and destructive to daily life and to their own vision of the world . Women under the age of 50 show more emotional distress, anxiety, and depression symptoms and lower vigour for aggressiveness of chemotherapy received, regardless of the surgical procedure or tumour evaluation time.
One of the reasons for the less psychological adaptation, both during and after treatment, is the fear of recurrence. This aspect is particularly relevant in younger women because they receive more aggressive cancer diagnoses and treatments, report high levels of distress, and have greater family and work responsibilities and because the disease interferes with important roles and activities of theirs.
Women under 50 years of age are more concerned about their health, femininity, gender role and motherhood; in particular, the latter increases generalised fear over women without children. Furthermore, in exploring the predictors of fear of recurrence in younger women, the literature recognizes the levels of anxiety and illness representation, particularly the perception of breast cancer as a life intruder, with negative physical, social and economic effects.
This perception is greater at young ages, because illnesses are completely unexpected and come when women are performing development tasks that require greater strength and physical endurance (e.g. career, family responsibilities and care for children) compared with a subsequent phase of the life cycle.
In conclusion, on one hand, the scientific literature is starting to deal with this specific target, particularly focusing on the specific impact of the experience and its psychological/clinical aspects. On the other hand, we observed a scientific gap in the comprehension of EP of the potential traumatic experience and its relation to the psychological symptoms of women under 50 with breast cancer, not only at the end of the disease, but also during the treatments.