Breast cancer is rare in 20s or 30s, accounting for less than 5% of all cases, but it’s the most common cancer for women in this age group. Younger women with breast cancer experience unique challenges. For women under 40, breast cancer is often diagnosed in its later stages, when it tends to be more aggressive. This means the survival rate is lower and the recurrence rate is higher.

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The incidents of breast cancer are on the rise among younger women. Earlier, women had breast cancer in their late 40s or 50s, but now it is seen in those in their 30s as well.

There may not be concrete reasons for young women reporting breast cancer, but lifestyle changes, obesity, lack of physical activities and fast food are contributing to the trend.

Rising breast cancer among young women has larger social implications. The trend more prevalent in urban areas to hormonal imbalances, late marriages, late conception, early menarche and menopause are contributing factors. Increasing estrogen levels during fertility treatment also put women at risk.

Knowing the risk factors for breast cancer and early signs and symptoms can help you get started on treatment sooner. Here are some of the most important statistics to know when it comes to breast cancer at a young age.

The risk factors

Some women are at an increased risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer in their 20s or 30s. These risk factors include:

  • Having a close family member (mother, sister, or aunt) who was diagnosed with breast cancer before age 50
  • Having a close male blood relative with breast cancer
  • Having a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation
  • Having received radiation treatment to the chest or breast before age 30

Other risk factors that apply to women of any age include:

  • Having a high percentage of breast tissue that appears dense on a mammogram
  • Having had a previous abnormal breast biopsy
  • Having had your first menstrual period before age 12
  • Having your first full-term pregnancy after age 30
  • Never having a full-term pregnancy
  • Being physically inactive or overweight
  • Being of Ashkenazi Jewish heritage
  • Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol

Causes of breast cancer in 20s and 30s

Breast cancer happens when cells in the breast begin to grow and multiply abnormally. Changes in DNA can cause normal breast cells to become abnormal.

The exact reason why normal cells turn into cancer is unclear, but researchers know that hormones, environmental factors, and genetics each play a role.

Roughly 5% to 10% of breast cancers are linked to inherited gene mutations. The most well-known are breast cancer gene 1 (BRCA1) and breast cancer gene 2 (BRCA2). If you have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer, your doctor may suggest testing your blood for these specific mutations.

Breast cancer in your 20s and 30s has been found to differ biologically in some cases from the cancers found in older women. For example, younger women are more likely to be diagnosed with triple negative and HER2-positive breast cancers than older women.

Signs and symptoms

It’s often difficult for doctors to diagnose breast cancer in women under 40 because younger women have denser breasts. A tumor won’t typically show up as well on mammograms in younger women.

So, one significant sign of breast cancer is a change or lump in the breast area. The majority of young women diagnosed with breast cancer discover an abnormality themselves.

Always report any breast changes, including changes in the skin, nipple discharge, pain, tenderness, or a lump or mass in the breast or underarm area, to your doctor.

Breast cancer is uncommon in your 20s and 30s, but it can still happen. Routine screening isn’t recommended for this age group, so diagnosis can be difficult. Understanding the statistics, as well as your personal risk factors, can help with early diagnosis and treatment.