Breast Cancer Screening Under 40: Bridging the Gap
You probably know women who have been diagnosed with a life-changing, life-threatening disease at a young age, but you never think it can happen to you. If you’re age 40 or younger you may think you’re too young to develop breast cancer, but that’s far from the truth. While breast cancer is most typically diagnosed in post-menopausal women (50 or older), it’s a disease that can and does affect young women as well.
Other than a physical exam of the breasts during a GYN visit, there are no routine breast cancer screenings advised for young women. In fact, physicians do not recommend a mammography screening for women under 40; some even suggest starting those screenings at age 45. In addition, the U.S. Preventative Screening Task Force recommends biennial (every two years) mammography screenings for women aged 50 to 74 years and suggests the decision to start mammography screening prior to age 50 should be an individual one. This is partly because mammography is known to be less effective for younger women due to denser breast tissue. Dense breasts are a common finding, affecting at least 50% of women regardless of age; however, dense tissue is almost always a typical finding in younger women. Having dense breasts simply means there is more fibro-glandular tissue vs. fatty tissue within the breast, which appears white on a mammogram and can therefore camouflage the physician’s ability to detect a cancerous tumor, which also appears white.
Breast Cancer in Women under 40
While breast cancer is not common in younger women, it is nonetheless the most common cancer among women ages 15 to 40. Today in the U.S., 11% of new breast cancer cases are diagnosed annually in women age 45 or younger, and it’s estimated that just under 27,000 women in this age group will be diagnosed this year alone. Although a breast cancer diagnosis is difficult for a woman at any age, the disease tends to be more aggressive, invasive, and advanced in younger vs. older women.
Breast cancer is not immediate; it doesn’t just suddenly appear overnight. The process of a tumor that’s grown large enough to be felt by physical exam or visible on a mammogram takes several years. Cancerous cells generate heat and inflammation from their increased metabolism and the stimulation of new blood vessels to nurture their growth. Furthermore, a cancerous tumor also needs nutrients and additional blood flow to grow. This is all achieved by a process known as neoangiogenesis, the physiological process that produces an abnormal surface temperature difference (inflammation/heat) of the breast. Therefore, inflammation and irregular heat patterns in the breasts can be an early a warning sign that a potential problem exists.
Detecting Inflammation Is Key
The addition of breast thermography is a valuable screening option for young women and can bridge the gap until other screenings are offered and advised. Breast thermography is a non-invasive and painless way to screen for breast cancer without radiation or compression of the breasts. It uses state-of-the-art medical infrared technology to capture and assess irregular heat patterns and inflammation of the breasts. Comparative exams create a baseline for monitoring breast health based on individual thermal patterns and changes that may occur over time. When breast thermography is utilized regularly and from an early age, it can help identify a potential health risk years before it presents as a physical abnormality such as a thickening or breast lump.
Is It Ever Too Early to Assess Breast Health?
Women of any age should think about the health of their breasts and consider utilizing thermography to assess and monitor them. Although the exact cause of breast cancer is still unknown, research has shown environmental factors, diet, and lifestyle choices all play a role. In my thermography center I have seen several cases of breast cancer in younger women, and my fear is that the current 11% statistic is going to continue to increase year after year. The addition of thermography to the front line of breast cancer detection brings a great deal of good news for all women, but particularly for younger women for whom there currently is no breast screening methods advised.
Having two friends diagnosed with breast cancer at a young age is the reason I became a Certified Thermographic Technician. I believe that, had they been aware of breast thermography, their cancer diagnosis would have been different and may have been avoided altogether. Because of this, I have made it my mission to share this valuable screening tool with as many women as possible.
April Beaman, RDH, CTT, is a Medical Thermographer, certified by the Professional Academy of Clinical Thermology, and a professional member of Breast Thermography International. Beaman has worked in the wellness industry for over 15 years and provides thermography screenings and wellness support for both men and women. She is the owner of CT Thermography located in Farmington. Connect at 860.415.1150 or CTThermography.com.