By now, everyone has heard the statistics. One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point during their lives. But what most people don’t know is that 11 percent of those women will be under the age of 45.
A cancer diagnosis is scary enough. But if you’re a young woman dealing with breast cancer, you also often have to face issues that older women with the disease don’t. And one of those issues is the nature of the disease. One kind of breast cancer, triple negative, is more serious and harder to treat, and the sad fact is that triple negative breast cancer is more common among young women.
Add to that, in the United States, young black women are more likely to develop triple negative breast cancer than white women. In the 0 to 44 age group, approximately 20 percent of black women with breast cancer are triple negative versus 12 percent of the white women. Researchers don’t know why this is so, but it makes it particularly important that young black women be aware of their breast health.
There are other issues that young women with breast cancer face that have nothing to do with race and which also do not affect older women with the disease. For example, a younger woman diagnosed with breast cancer, but who might want to have children one day – or more children - usually has to make some quick decisions about how to address and protect her fertility before treatment begins, even as she may still be reeling from her diagnosis.
There are genetic ramifications as well. A diagnosis of breast cancer in a young woman can have genetic implications for both the males and females in her family. This knowledge is leading to more and more people seeking genetic counseling – a process that can also shed light on what may be the best treatment for the particular type of the disease that the young woman is facing.
Job and financial issues too are generally more profound for young women who are often just starting out or at the beginnings of their careers. And for a young woman on the dating scene, recently married, or dealing with small children who don’t understand what is wrong with mommy, there are rocky relationship issues that must be navigated.
Finally, sometimes, the issues just come down to simple things that a healthy young woman wouldn’t think twice about, but which can tremendously affect a young woman’s self-image. Being bald and having no eyebrows can make one self-conscious and unwilling to go out. Knowing where to find a good wig store or a makeup artist skilled in recreating eyebrows can make the difference between someone hiding from life or going on and facing it.
That is why the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) recently expanded Louisiana’s existing SurviveDAT (www.survivedat.org) program and started statewide projects in Mississippi and Alabama (www.surviveMiss.org and www.surviveal.org respectively). Together, they now constitute the Gulf States Young Breast Cancer Survivor Network. The Gulf States have a high percentage of young black women and women living in rural areas without nearby access to advice or support. These women can now take advantage of the online resources, which include advice on a variety of topics, helpful listings and the latest news. Perhaps, most importantly, Gulf States Young Breast Cancer Survivor Network’s social media platforms will help these women connect to each other. As we all know, sometimes the best person to offer advice is the person who has actually been through it.