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Self-exams rare among women despite increasing risk factors

Mills College Weekly

Ignoring new risk factors or warning signs may leave traditional
college-aged women more at risk of an early death from breast
cancer, generally believed to be an older women’s disease.

The excessive use of antibiotics may now be added to the list of
risk factors after the results of the “first-of-its-kind study of
more than 10,000 Washington state women,” reported in the
Washington Post by Rob Stein.

The study’s findings, along with the more recent announcement on
CNN, found that women who fail to maintain a stable weight may be
at a higher risk of contracting the disease. These two new risk
factor announcements may be of particular interest to younger

The generation of women now reaching college age should be aware
that the overuse and abuse of antibiotics has come to a head in
their lifetime.

There is also a high rate of eating disorders including
anorexia, bulimia, overeating and yo-yo dieting that is a factor
today in many young women’s lives, or in the life of someone they

There appears to be a lack of concern among young women who
contract the disease at a lower rate, but die at a higher rate if
not promptly diagnosed.

Breast cancer “is the leading cause of cancer death for U.S.
women between the ages of 20 and 59, and the leading cause of
cancer death for women worldwide,” according to the American Cancer

The ACS warns that a young woman cannot afford to ignore this
threat until she is over 40.

There may be as many as a million women in America that are
currently living with undiagnosed breast cancer, according to the
ACS and one in eight women will have breast cancer at some time in
their life.

“‘Young women don’t get breast cancer’ is a refrain we hear
frequently,” said Randi Rosenberg, president of The Young Survival

The YSC is an organization of young women united against breast
cancer. Their mission statement is one that is “dedicated to the
concerns and issues that are unique to young women and breast

Their concern over statements that young women don’t get breast
cancer fire their desire to “educate the medical, research, breast
cancer and legislative communities and to persuade them to address
breast cancer in women 40 and under.” Their web site,, is one that serves as a “point of contact
for young women living with breast cancer.”

Sarah Jones, a 22 year-old Mills student became aware of the
disease when the mother of her friend Matt was diagnosed.

“I would say that the thing that grabbed my attention, and
caused me to check my breasts daily was Matt telling me that it is
more likely for someone to get breast cancer if nobody in their
family has had breast cancer, and it is more likely to develop in
younger people, in their thirties. Personally this scared me.”

The ACS said women who have no history of breast cancer in their
family do get the disease, and women much younger than 30 have been
diagnosed with breast cancer.

Young women like Jones do take notice when someone close to them
is fighting the disease.

“I just wouldn’t know what to do if I was diagnosed,” she said.
“The struggle of having to go through chemotherapy and not knowing
if the cancer is going to come back or not is a very scary thought
for anybody.”

Being aware of the potential threat and knowing the facts about
breast cancer is the best way to be in the 97 percent group that
survives the disease because of early detection.

Groups like the ACS and the YSC want women to be informed about
the disease, by knowing the risk factors and warning signs.

Young women can lower their risk by watching their weight,
eating a balanced low-fat diet, exercising regularly and limiting
alcohol intake to less than one drink a day.

Every woman should begin monthly breast self-exams, have
clinical breast exams, and begin mammograms between 35 and 40 years
of age, according to the ACS.

Any suspicion regarding breast health should be followed-up and
diagnosed. Lumps are often benign, a non-cancerous cyst, or nothing
at all, but the risk is too high to ignore.