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Breast cancer in young women

What does being a young woman mean?

In relation to breast cancer, young women generally refers to women who are pre-menopausal. Young women can have some different challenges from women who are post-menopausal at the time of diagnosis.

"My breast cancer diagnosis came out of the blue, it was a real shock. A young woman in her 20s or 30s is not thinking about dying. Breast cancer forced me to examine the issue of my mortality. At the time I would have preferred to be making decisions like 'what movie will I see?' " - Laura

In 2022, breast cancer is estimated to be the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women aged 20–39.

In 2018, there were 923 new cases of breast cancer diagnosed in women aged 20–39. In 2022, it is estimated that 1,006 new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed in women aged 20–39 (Cancer Australia, September 2022). 

Key issues

Young and pregnant

Although being diagnosed with breast cancer when pregnant is rare, it does happen. Treatment options may be different if you are pregnant when diagnosed. Radiotherapy is often not recommended due to the risk to the unborn baby, so some women choose to have a mastectomy instead of breast conserving surgery. If chemotherapy is required, some women choose to wait until after the birth of their child, however studies have shown that babies of women who undergo chemotherapy while pregnant during their second or third trimesters is safe for the baby.

You don’t have to make any decisions about your treatment alone. Your obstetric and oncology team should include health professionals with experience in caring for women diagnosed with cancer while pregnant. They can help you to make the best choices for you and your baby. 

Fertility

The effects of chemotherapy and hormone-blocking therapy can make it harder to get pregnant after treatment ends. There are a number of factors which contribute to this issue, including a woman’s age, and the type of treatment she has and how it affects her ovaries. There are options for preserving fertility before starting treatment, which may or may not be suitable to your situation. If you are planning to become pregnant in the future, or even if you haven't given children much thought, it's best to consider some of these options before you start treatment. These include mature egg freezing, embryo freezing, ovarian tissue freezing, medications and using a donor egg.

Ovarian suppression during treatment

Ovarian suppression during chemotherapy for women with breast cancer may help protect the ovaries.  Medications such as goserelin (Zoladex).  blocks the hormones that signal the ovaries to develop and release eggs and causes the ovaries to temporarily shut down. The aim is to protect the eggs from chemotherapy medicine.

Fertility-related Choices: A Decision Aid for Younger Women with Early Breast Cancer is a free booklet for young women who have recently been diagnosed with early breast cancer. This booklet contains information about cancer treatment, how it can affect fertility, and fertility options to consider. There are also some worksheets to help you think about these issues. You can download it here.

Early menopause

Some chemotherapy and hormone-blocking therapies can reduce the level of oestrogen produced in the ovaries, causing your periods to stop temporarily or can bring about permanent early menopause. This generally depends on your age and the medications you are given, but if you have not yet reached menopause, you should discuss this with your doctor before treatment. Early menopause can bring with it uncomfortable side effects, such as hot flushes or vaginal dryness. Talk to your doctor about ways to manage these side effects.

For more information on Early menopause and breast cancer treatment visit My Journey.

Clinical trials for young women

To see what clinical trials are currently available for young women diagnosed with breast cancer, visit the Australian Cancer Trials website.

More information

  • If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer, you can sign up to BCNA's My Journey, a free resource for women and men with breast cancer. My Journey provides up-to-date, reliable information tailored to your changing needs and circumstances at all stages of your breast cancer journey. 
  • Fertility-related Choices: A Decision Aid for Younger Women with Early Breast Cancer provides information on breast cancer and fertility. Download or order a copy from our , or call 1800 500 258 and we will post you a free copy.
  • Join BCNA's online network to connect and share with other women in a similar situation.