After two decades of progress, breast cancer deaths are on the rise again in the U.S.––with young women bearing the brunt of the concerning trend.
Since 2010, more women between 20 and 39 are dying from breast cancer, while women over 40 have continued to see improved cancer deaths rates. The findings, which were published in a recent study in Radiology, underscore that women may need regular breast cancer screenings earlier in life. Current health guidelines recommend women start annual breast cancer screenings, including mammograms, around the age of 40.
A rise in distant-stage diagnosis, or when the cancer has already spread to other parts of the body, is likely to blame for more cancer deaths among young women. Without regular screenings, it can be easier to miss diagnosing breast cancer, when the disease is more treatable and associated with better health outcomes.
The World Health Organization has also taken notice of the rise in breast cancer deaths, with its International Agency for Research on Cancer recently declaring female breast cancer the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the world, overtaking lung cancer.
For many years, cancer deaths were improving among older and younger women in the U.S. From 1990 to 2017, breast cancer death rates in the U.S. among women 40 and older dropped significantly, likely due to increased mammography screening and improved treatments. However, cancer death rates have risen 2.8% in women aged 20-29 and 0.3% per year in women aged 30-39 after 2010, the study found.
Younger women are more likely to have metastatic breast cancers that spread faster, R. Edward Hendrick, PhD, author of the Radiology study and a clinical professor at the University of Colorado at Denver and Health Sciences Center, told The Whipp.
“It is important for women under age 40 years and their clinical care providers to be aware of that breast cancers can occur at a young age, and that when they do, they tend to be rapidly growing breast cancers,” Hendrick told The Whipp.
Since 2000, metastatic breast cancers among women aged 20 to 39 in the U.S. have risen more than 4% per year, the study found. However, researchers aren’t sure why there’s such a rapid rise in late-stage cancer among younger women, according to Hendrick.
Curbing the rise in death rates among young women may come from increased awareness about high risk factors for breast cancer. Specifically, young women with a genetic pre-disposition to breast cancer, including the mutations known as BRCA 1 and BRCA 2, should take proactive preventative care measures to decrease their chances of metastasized breast cancer.
On average, women with the BRCA 1 mutation have up to a 72% lifetime risk of breast cancer development, while women with the BRCA 2 mutations have a 69% risk. Breast cancer caused by these mutations typically develops more often in younger women, according to recent statistics from Breastcancer.org.
“Encouraging every woman to get a risk assessment for breast cancer by age 30 would help identify those who might be at high risk from breast cancer and might benefit from early screening,” Hendrick told The Whipp.