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Montreal Families

Young women should be aware of early signs of breast cancer

The Quebec Breast Cancer Foundation (QBCF) wants young women to know that while breast cancer is most often associated with older people, all women should be mindful of the risks and alert for signs of the disease.

The goal of the foundation’s Breast Cancer Isn’t Just for Boomers campaign is to promote awareness about the risks of breast cancer in women aged 30 to 49. Running until April 24, the campaign’s message is that young women should be vigilant about the signs and symptoms of breast cancer and check their breasts regularly.

“In recent years, we at the Foundation have noticed that younger and younger women are being diagnosed with breast cancer,” says Karine-Iseult Ippersiel, QBCF President and CEO.

Émilie Jubinville was only 27 years old when she battled triple-negative breast cancer. “Breast observation is essential for women’s health,” she says. “You can’t assume that it just happens to other people. The younger you are, the more aggressive it is; the more important it is. Two minutes in your week can save your life.”

According to the World Health Organization, as of 2021, breast cancer became the most common cancer globally, accounting for 12 per cent of all new annual cancer cases worldwide. And although more commonly associated with women over the age of 50, breast cancer can occur at any age after puberty. It is the most diagnosed cancer in women aged 30 to 49 and the leading cause of death for that age group. Statistics indicate that if the trend continues, one in eight women in Quebec will develop breast cancer in her lifetime, and one in 34 will die from it.

“The situation is worrisome and we feel it is our duty to act and to share information so that young women become concerned about the disease earlier and are alert to its signs and symptoms. This is especially important since breast cancer is usually more aggressive in young women,”  Ippersiel says.

The QBCF campaign is simple, with a call to action that’s direct: “Check your breasts. You’re not too young.”

Need for awareness

Younger women generally do not consider themselves to be at risk and are not in the breast cancer screening programs, which are primarily focused on women over 50. The risk for breast cancer among young women varies based on factors such as family and personal history. But even with no family history of cancer or other risk factors, women can still develop breast cancer. According to survivingbreastcancer.org, approximately 85 per cent of breast cancers occur in women who have no family history of the disease.

The QBCF recommends women check their breasts for changes or irregularities of the breast and underarm area. Some other signs to watch for include:

  • Changes in breast size or shape
  • Dimples or folds in the skin of a breast
  • Redness, swelling, or increased warmth in a breast
  • Persistent itching
  • Nipple retraction (turned inward)
  • Crusting or scaling nipple (small flakes of skin that fall off)

With increased observation and vigilance, women who notice any signs or symptoms can take swift action and consult their family doctor or the QBCF for support.

Limited screening for younger women

When breast cancer is detected and treated early the chances of survival are very high, yet across Canada, screening for the disease only starts at age 50. The guidelines come from the Canadian Task Force for Preventive Health Care which established these directions nationally and recommends that women aged 50 to 74 schedule a mammogram every two to three years.

Consequently, the Quebec Breast Cancer Screening Program only begins at age 50, and women under this age cannot self-refer for a mammogram. The health advocates at mybreastscreening.ca urge everyone to be “breast informed” and explain that women can begin mammograms in their 40s by requesting a diagnostic requisition from their health care provider. Mybreastscreening.ca recommends women have a conversation with their health care provider about the benefits and limitations of mammograms and stresses that every woman in Canada has a right to a mammogram starting at age 40.

Early detection saves lives

The five-year survival rate is 99 per cent for breast cancer treated at an early stage. It’s for this reason says the QBCF, that awareness and prevention are essential educational tools for young women. That is why it is essential for women to check their breasts regularly at home.

The QBCF notes that although most changes detected by breast palpation are not cancerous, it is important to be prudent and informed.

For any questions about breast cancer, people are invited to contact their family doctor or the QBCF at rubanrose.org. The QBCF telephone line 1-855-561-PINK is also available to anyone who needs support.

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