Under 40 with Early-stage Breast Cancer? You Have Options.

Until recently, conventional wisdom has held that a woman under age 40 diagnosed with breast cancer needs a mastectomy. Recent studies and my personal experience suggest we need to revisit that belief.

A study conducted by the University of Maryland in Baltimore reviewed outcomes among 14,760 women age 20 to 39 diagnosed with early stage breast cancer (T1-2, NO-1, MO) between 1990 and 2007. Of the group, 45 percent underwent lumpectomy with radiation treatment; 55 percent had a mastectomy; and 17 percent of the mastectomy group also had radiation. An analysis of the data found similar overall survival rates for women undergoing breast-conserving therapy versus those undergoing mastectomy.

Similarly, a study conducted by Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston that looked at breast cancer recurrence rates at five and 10 years found no significant difference in the rates of local recurrence between patients who underwent mastectomy and those who had a lumpectomy.

At Premier, we’ve been utilizing breast conservation therapy for breast cancer patients under age 40 for some time now. These studies are further confirmation that we’ve been doing the right thing.

These studies are also a good indicator to young breast cancer patients that they’re not backed into a corner. They don’t have to undergo a mastectomy because of their age.

As with any study, there are caveats. Certain types of cancer demand that we get more aggressive with treatment, and all patients opting for a lumpectomy must go through the entire treatment regimen including radiation and chemotherapy prevention such as Tamoxifen to reduce the risk of recurrence.

I know it’s never easy to get a cancer diagnosis, but I’m always glad to let younger patients know there are options available and to share the good news that in cases of early-stage breast cancer the numbers for long-term survival are very, very good.

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