Breast cancer is a traumatic illness to go through at any age, but for young women it can be particularly difficult. For women in their twenties, thirties and early forties, breast cancer can be devastating, not just because of the difficulty of coping with the illness, but also because the treatment can have a damaging effect on fertility and in some cases can leave young women infertile. Younger women are also likely to have young families to look after and work and financial commitments, which they need to take into account with any treatment. These considerations can lead to extra stress and pressure to women already suffering from the illness.
Breast cancer and fertility
Earlier this year a survey by the charity Breast Cancer Care revealed that three quarters of young breast cancer patients didn't receive a referral to a fertility clinic to discuss their options. 35% of women surveyed revealed that they didn't receive any information on how breast cancer treatment affects fertility
Breast cancer in younger women is often treated with chemotherapy which can bring on an early menopause and prevent the ovaries from working properly, which can lead to problems with fertility. Psychologically, the issue with not having access to the correct advice at every stage of the diagnosis and treatment can add extra stress to an already stressful situation.
Grete Brauten-Smith, Breast Cancer Care's clinical nurse specialist for younger women, explains, "Fertility issues need to be discussed with all younger women with breast cancer so that they can make the decision right for them, whatever their situation. These standards of care (launched by Breast Cancer Care on 3rd April) could really make a difference to younger women's experience of breast cancer, helping them to feel empowered and informed."
An early and correct diagnosis of breast cancer is crucial to successful treatment and survival. Breast cancer in younger women has made the headlines recently with the inspiring work of Kristin Hallenga, who is the founder of the CoppaFeel charity and who has stage four breast cancer which was diagnosed at just 23. Speaking in the Daily Mail, Kristin discusses how it took a year and multiple visits to her GP to be diagnosed correctly.
"When I went to the GP, I didn't really want her to say anything. I was about to go traveling to China. If I am honest, I had felt the lump before then. I don't know how long before. I did not think anything bad of it. I thought it would go away."
When she returned from China, she went to the doctors with a severe pain in her breast, she was advised to come of the contraceptive pill and wasn't referred to a specialist clinic for another three weeks. After a full medical examination Kristin was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer and the cancer had actually spread to her spine by this point.
Receiving a clear diagnosis as soon as possible after finding any symptoms is vital to treating breast cancer early. Being aware of the signs of breast cancer and then acting on these by seeing a doctor as soon as possible can help ensure a greater chance of survival from the disease. Although referral can be quick on the NHS, as Kristin's case shows, this isn't always the case. Many women choose to take the private health route as some clinics provide a complete cancer screening assessment when any symptoms are detected. These screenings can include a full diagnosis with results available in just a couple of days.
Breast cancer can be extremely emotional for younger women suffering from the disease but an early and full diagnosis can mean that women can then begin to make the important decisions on treatment and related issues such as fertility.