Researchers highlight need for immediate shift in public health policy as early detection is key to reducing breast cancer death and complications.

Summary: Breast cancer rates are increasing among Canadian women under 50, with more diagnoses seen in those in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, as per a recent study in the Canadian Association of Radiologists Journal.

Key Takeaways:

  • Breast cancer is increasing among Canadian women under 50, particularly in their 20s, 30s, and 40s.
  • Breast cancer in younger women tends to be diagnosed at later stages, posing higher risks due to lack of regular screening.
  • Data analysis shows significant increases in breast cancer cases for women in their 20s, 30s, and 40s over a 35-year period, emphasizing the need for tailored awareness and screening initiatives.

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Breast cancer rates are rising among Canadian women under 50, with diagnoses increasing in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, as shown in a study led by Jean Seely, MD, head of breast imaging at The Ottawa Hospital and Professor at the University of Ottawa’s Department of Radiology. Published in the Canadian Association of Radiologists Journal, this study analyzed breast cancer cases over a span of 35 years, shedding light on detection trends in Canada.

“Breast cancer in younger women tends to be diagnosed at later stages and is often more aggressive,” says Seely. “It’s alarming to see rising rates among women in their 20s and 30s because they are not regularly screened for breast cancer.”

Breast Cancer Risk Increases with Age

Using data from the National Cancer Incidence Reporting System (1984-1991) and the Canadian Cancer Registry (1992-2019) at Statistics Canada, the research team looked at all women aged 20 to 54 who were diagnosed with breast cancer.

Their findings included:

  • For women in their 20s, there were 3.9 cases per 100,000 people between 1984 and 1988, compared to 5.7 cases per 100,000 between 2015 and 2019 for a 45.5% increase.
  • For women in their 30s, there were 37.7 cases per 100,000 people between 1984 and 1988, compared to 42.4 cases per 100,000 between 2015 and 2019 for a 12.5% increase.
  • For women in their 40s, there were 127.8 cases per 100,000 people between 1984 and 1988, compared to 139.4 cases per 100,000 between 2015 and 2019 for a 9.1% increase.

The study’s results show the importance of targeting younger women in breast cancer awareness campaigns and screening programs. Most public health efforts focus on women over 50, but these findings suggest that younger women are increasingly at risk and may benefit from earlier and more frequent screenings.

One Woman’s Experience

Chelsea Bland, now a survivor, was prompted to conduct a self-examination at 28 after learning of a breast cancer death at 33. Her discovery of a lump led to screenings, diagnosis, and treatment, leaving her two years cancer-free but still on hormone therapy. Motivated by her journey, Bland co-founded a local peer support group catering to younger women aged 28 to 40.

“I hope that by bringing awareness to this study it makes people think twice about saying that being in your 20s, 30s, and 40s is too young to have breast cancer. In my support group, I have heard the same story over and over again,” Bland says.

“Young women are not being taken seriously after they find a lump because they are told they are too young for breast cancer,” she adds. “This has ultimately led to delays in being diagnosed and being diagnosed at a more advanced stage. We are not too young for this, and this is happening to women who do not have any high-risk genetic markers for breast cancer, myself included.”

Improving Awareness

The investigators say more research is needed to understand the root cause of rising breast cancer rates among younger women, information that could be used to develop targeted intervention strategies.

“We’re calling for increased awareness among health-care professionals and the public regarding the rising incidence of breast cancer in younger women,” said Seely. “We need to adapt our strategies and policies to reflect these changing trends, ensuring that all women, regardless of age, have access to the information and resources they need to detect and combat this disease.”