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‘Too young to have breast cancer’: Rates among young Canadian women rising

Breast cancer rates are rising in Canada among women in their 20s, 30s and 40s, according to research by the University of Ottawa (uOttawa).

The study reviewed breast cancer cases over 35 years to shed light on trends in breast cancer detection in Canada, said the university in a news release on Friday.

It finds that the risk increases with age:

• 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 per cent increase.

• 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 per cent increase.

• 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 per cent increase.

The study is led by Dr. Jean Seely – Head of Breast Imaging at The Ottawa Hospital and professor in the Department of Radiology at uOttawa. Dr. Seely says the rising rates among younger women is alarming, noting that women in their 20s and 30s are not regularly screened for breast cancer.

“Breast cancer in younger women tends to be diagnosed at later stages and is often more aggressive,” said Dr. Seely.

Dr. Seely suggests targeting younger women in breast cancer awareness campaigns and screening programs.

“We’re calling for increased awareness among health-care professionals and the public regarding the rising incidence of breast cancer in younger women,” said Dr. 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.”

The study also says more research is needed to understand the root cause of rising breast cancer rates among younger women.

Chelsea Bland was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 28.

Though Bland is two years cancer free, she remains on hormone therapy today. Her experience prompted her to establish a local group to offer support for women between the ages of 28 and 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 said.

“Young women are not being taken seriously after they find a lump because they are told they are too young for breast cancer. 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.”

The study is published in the Canadian Association of Radiologists Journal.

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