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Breast cancer hitting younger women harder, report finds

Younger women have a harder battle to beat breast cancer – so says a new report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

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It finds cancer causes one death a week in women aged between 20 and 39 years.

The new report is the first to look closely at the situation facing young women with the disease. Emma Hannigan reports.

Sunaina Kalra’s breast cancer may be gone, but she is now left with infertility, early menopause and the psychological effects.

She was 35 years old with two small children when she discovered that she had cancer.

“I went through this thing, ‘Are you still a woman when you have your ovaries, your breasts, your uterus removed?’ I don’t think the gravity of what was happening impacted me until much later when all the hormone stuff started and you are menopausal at 35, instantly.”

Young women are expected to account for five per cent of new breast cancer cases in Australia in 2015.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report has found 795 women aged between 20 and 39 years are likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer this year.

65 of them will die from the disease – that’s an average of two diagnoses a day, and one death a week.

Institute spokesman Justin Harvey says the survival rate for women under 40 is lower than it is among older women.

“More women who were aged 20 to 30 were diagnosed with very large cancers of fifty millimetres or more, and also the cancers diagnosed for young women tend to be more aggressive.”

Cassandra Boyle was 34 when she was diagnosed.

A double mastectomy and a hysterectomy followed.

“I see a pregnant woman and I think, ‘That would have been really good and that is really sad’. What I have learnt now is that it is okay to say ‘you know, that is really sad’ and it is okay to talk about this rather than focusing on ‘But you are alive, you made it, it is behind you.’ But you know what, this stuff isn’t, this stuff is still with me today.”

Professor Helen Zorbas, Cancer Australia CEO, says many women under 40 think that they are too young to have cancer.

“We know that mammography is not an effective screening test in women under 40 so it is especially important that women know the normal look and feel of their breasts. That is how most breast cancers in young women are found.”

However the report has also found women have a better chance of beating the disease now than they did 20 years ago.

 

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