Breast Cancer in Teens is Rare, But Not Unheard Of

By Steve Blanchard - July 19, 2021

Miranda McKeon, the young star of “Anne with an E,” has been diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. While breast cancer diagnoses are not uncommon, they are for young women still in their teens. McKeon is 19.

The actress found a lump while adjusting her shirt. After a doctor’s appointment her worst fears were realized – not only did she have breast cancer, but it had spread to her lymph nodes.

While rare, breast cancer can affect younger women, according to Dr. Hatem Soliman, a breast oncologist at Moffitt Cancer Center. He said that two out of every million women ages 15-19 are diagnosed.

“These cases are more frequently associated with inherited gene mutations that predispose to cancer,” Soliman said. “So, it’s important to undergo genetic testing.”

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"These cases are more frequently associated with inherited gene mutations that predispose to cancer, so, it’s important to undergo genetic testing."

- Dr. Hatem Soliman, breast oncologist

The National Comprehensive Cancer Network recommends adolescent and young adult patients be treated at a cancer center with multidisciplinary care, which involves geneticists, plastic surgeons, psychosocial services and fertility options.

McKeon, who is undergoing treatment near her home in New Jersey, said she is having discussions about freezing her eggs, an option often discussed with young female cancer patients.

Her treatment plan includes four months of chemotherapy, with infusions every other week, followed by radiation and possibly surgery. But “we’ve realized that having breast cancer as a young woman involves a lot more factors than just treating the cancer itself,” McKeon said.

Self-exams are always an important part of diagnosing breast cancer early, and while McKeon discovered her lump accidentally, it did prompt her to seek a doctor’s opinion. Even among populations where cancer is rare, paying close attention to your body is an important part of remaining healthy.

“It is quite rare to be diagnosed at this age, but breast cancer is the most common cancer in female adolescent and young adult patients,” Soliman said.

As she begins her treatment journey, McKeon said she is remaining optimistic and has put faith in her doctors.

“My doctor was like, ‘Your stage doesn’t define you. And your cancer is your cancer,’ ” she said. “Although I don’t have the easiest case scenario, like I wish it hadn’t spread to my lymph nodes or that it was a little less complicated, I never had a moment where I was like, ‘Oh, am I going to die from this?’ That was never really a thought. I think this entire time it’s been more of like, ‘OK, we’re going to treat this and solve it.’ ”

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