LA CROSSE, Wis. (WLAX/WEUX) – As breast cancer awareness month winds down, it is still important to remind everyone that women under 40 can be diagnosed with breast cancer. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 240,000 cases of breast cancer are diagnosed in women each year in the U.S.
The CDC also says about 9% of all new cases are found in women younger than 45 years of age. Health providers say younger women can try to keep an eye out for breast cancer by performing self-breast checks. Oncologist Leah Dietrich, with Gundersen Health System, explains, “That is just knowing your breasts, knowing the size, the shape, the lumpy bumpiness or not. And so that if there is a change in your breasts, you can contact your provider immediately.”
Dietrich, says they also provide other ways for younger women to be screened for breast cancer, “The other tests that we could consider would be to do a screening breast MRI, and that is going to be more able to detect cancers in those dense or younger breasts.”
38-year-old Alison Harris was diagnosed with breast cancer in July, and she says she wouldn’t have found it as soon as she did if it wasn’t for a self-check, “I don’t have any family history of breast cancer, at least nothing significant. That would have been a red flag. So, it was a real surprise when I found out that I had breast cancer myself. I had been doing some gardening work outside and had reached for a tool and then that caused some pain in a way that was very unfamiliar to me. So later that evening I came inside and did a self-check, and that’s when I found the lump.”
Harris says that even though most younger women don’t think about breast cancer, it is very important to perform self-checks regularly, “Advice I would give to younger women is absolutely do yourself checks. Breast cancer is something that nobody ever plans for, but we can certainly do self-checks and take care of ourselves. Breast cancer was never on my mind and I was not good about doing self-checks. I’ll be the first to admit that I wasn’t doing the thing that I’m telling people to do now.”
All women are at risk for getting breast cancer, but some things can raise a woman’s risk for getting breast cancer before age 45. The CDC says it is important to learn what factors increase your chance of getting breast cancer and to talk with your healthcare provider about your concerns.