Breast cancer in young women is rarer than media make it seem

Mammographer at WorkA recent article published online in JAMA Oncology focuses on the increased recent attention in medicine, the media, and by the general public that has generated the perception that rates of breast cancer among young women have been increasing. (An example of this is TV chef Sandra Lee s advice to women in their 20s and 30s to get screened and have mammograms).

However, the article, titled Breast Cancer in Young Women Rare Disease or Public Health Problem?, points out that the overall rate of breast cancer in young women does not seem to be increasing. The increased incidence of breast cancer in young women over the past 3 decades seems to be limited to cases of advanced breast cancer, which have themselves only increased an additional 1.37 cases per 100,000 women from 1976 to 2009. Additionally, the authors state: [W]hereas the overall rate of breast cancer in young women does not seem to be increasing, the number of women younger than 45 years in the United States has increased by more than 9 million between 1980 and 2010, translating into more young women at risk for developing breast cancer in absolute numbers.

So to answer the question in the authors title breast cancer in young women is still uncommon. The American Cancer Society continues to recommend that average-risk women should only start getting routine screening mammograms at age 40. (Although another group of experts, the US Preventive Services Task Force, recommends that routine screening should begin at age 50.) As we at ACSH have written before many times, too much screening leads to over-diagnosis and over-treatment, causing many women to undergo unnecessary surgeries for lesions found that would have never been life- or health-threatening.