Monitoring a Low-Risk Population for Breast Cancer
The key to finding breast cancer in groups that have a low risk for developing the disease is to promote awareness, so that regular efforts are made to check for the disease in all women even though the likelihood of it being present in some groups is low. It does not take long for a physician to give a clinical examination, and young women can learn how to perform breast self-examinations as well.
The one complication here is that it is actually relatively common for adolescent girls to develop lumps in their breasts while they are going through the normal process of physical maturation. The vast majority of these formations are masses that form in response to hormonal changes associated with adolescence. But given the consciousness that now exists in our society about breast cancer, when a teenage girl discovers one of these lumps it can cause quite a lot of consternation and even panic in the girl's family.
Diagnostic mammograms are not recommended for young women in this age group, because of the vulnerability of young bodies to radiation and because young women have denser breast tissue that can be difficult for mammograms to penetrate. The good news is that a very recent study carried out by the Loyola University Health System found that ultrasound does an excellent job of establishing when lumps found in the breasts of teenagers are benign. In about 25-30% of the cases looked at in this study, ultrasound was not able to provide a definitive answer, and biopsies needed to be performed in order to separate benign masses from those that were cancerous (all of the young women in this study ultimately tested negative for breast cancer). But with the use of ultrasound, it appears that only a few young women with anomalous lumps in their breast will actually need to have further tests performed.
Learning to Pay Attention Early
Fewer than 25 out of every 100,000 women diagnosed with breast cancer each year are under the age of 20. While it is true that cancers found in younger women are frequently quite aggressive, if detected early breast cancer survival rates are outstanding among all women, regardless of age. Awareness is what is most important – as long as teenage girls and their families realize that breast cancer can strike at any age, hopefully they will be ever vigilant and on the alert, which should allow them to find anything anomalous relatively quickly after if first appears.