By Jonesa Rodriguez - October 24, 2022
In recent news, there has been a trend of young women sharing their breast cancer journeys on social media to educate others. Unfortunately, they all have something in common: They were told they were too young for breast imaging.
In each story shared, the young women expressed their concerns to their primary care providers but were often dismissed and told that they were too young to get breast cancer. Months or years later, their suspicions turned out to be true when they were diagnosed with breast cancer, some even at a later stage.
This was the case for TikTok user Philecia La’Bounty, who in a three-minute-long video shared her experience with breast cancer. La’Bounty was 29 when she felt a lump in her left breast. After getting an ultrasound, which noted benign changes, she asked for a mammogram out of concern and was denied due to her age.
@philecialabounty Misdiagnosed lump that turned into stage 4 breast cancer #cancertok #breastcancer #stage4cancer ♬ original sound - Philecia
Eight months later, the lump had grown, and La’Bounty returned to the same clinic. This time her concerns were met with a mammogram and ultrasound. She was later diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer.
Excluding skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer and the second leading cause of cancer death in women. But with screening recommendations starting at age 40, how are younger women to advocate for themselves?
“It is important that women be advocates for their health,” said Dr. Dana Ataya, a breast radiologist at Moffitt Cancer Center. “Concerning changes — like a new or enlarging breast lump — should never be ignored or dismissed.”
Ataya also says that relying on stereotypes, such as being “too young,” is dangerous and can result in delayed cancer diagnoses. “Although most women diagnosed with breast cancer are over the age of 40, younger women can and do get diagnosed with breast cancer. Although rare, men can also be diagnosed with breast cancer. That is why it’s critical for all patients — irrespective of age and gender — to get promptly evaluated if a breast lump or other breast symptom is identified.”
According to Ataya, it’s very important for women to know their risk of developing breast cancer by getting a risk assessment.
“A risk assessment helps a woman know if she is at a higher risk for developing breast cancer. The American College of Radiology and Society of Breast Imaging recommend that all women get a risk assessment before age 30,” Ataya said. “This is important because high risk women should begin screening by age 30 and get yearly breast MRI and mammography.”
"It is important that women be advocates for their health."- Dana Ataya, Diagnostic Imaging and Interventional Radiology
A risk assessment evaluates many factors such as a woman’s family history, inherited gene mutations, age, reproductive history, breast density, obesity, and prior radiation, drug or hormone therapy. The overwhelming majority of women do not know their own breast cancer risk. At Moffitt, every woman who comes in for a screening mammogram also receives a risk assessment at no additional reimbursement.
Ataya says breast cancer in younger women is more likely to be hereditary than breast cancer in older women. It is also more likely to be found at a later stage and can be more aggressive and difficult to treat.
She recommends that women see their health care professional promptly for evaluation if they have breast cancer symptoms, like a lump.
“Breast imaging is often used to further evaluate the area. For women under 30, ultrasound is the first imaging test for evaluating a clinically detected breast lump,” Ataya said. “At Moffitt Cancer Center, women 30 years of age and older presenting with a breast lump have both a mammogram and ultrasound performed.”
It’s important for all women to be advocates for themselves, Ataya says. That means not being afraid to ask questions and getting re-evaluated.