Breast cancer doesn?t care how old you are

By By Alicia Williams

By Alicia Williams

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness month and the organization’s 25th anniversary. The American Cancer Society estimates that of the 192,370 females diagnosed with breast cancer this year, 40,170 of them will die.

If you’re one of the many people, including doctors and health care professionals, who believe breast cancer is an older woman’s disease, then you’ve obviously not heard any of the heart-wrenching stories from more than 10,000 American women under the age of 40 who are diagnosed with breast cancer every year.

You’re also not alone. Because the risk of breast cancer increases with age, health organizations’ messages are primarily focused on annual mammograms after women turn 40. In fact, most colleges and universities, including the U, don’t even bother with breast cancer awareness programs8212;mainly because the majority of female college students are young and believe the disease isn’t prevalent in their age group.

Alcohol is justifiably the most targeted awareness campaign for campuses across the nation. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism estimates that more than 1,700 tragic and preventable deaths occur every year to college students ages 18 to 24 years old.

In comparison, the American Cancer Society estimates that nearly 24,000 women under the age of 45 will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year, and 3,000 of them will likely die. The ACS also estimates 250,000 survivors of breast cancer under the age of 40 are living in the United States. Breast cancer has become the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in young women under the age of 40.

The reality is that this disease affects women of all ages, and because early detection is the best-known weapon used to fight breast cancer, young women must be empowered with knowledge to help them save their own lives.

In March, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Florida, introduced the legislation Education and Awareness Requires Learning Young Act, after her yearlong battle with breast cancer, which was diagnosed two weeks after she turned 40.

Wasserman Schultz published a personal note March 22, in which she describes her journey through diagnosis, treatment and her decision to have a double mastectomy and her ovaries removed so she could take control of her future health.

“As any breast cancer patient will tell you, it is a time when you feel you have very little control,” Wasserman Schultz said. “After consulting with my doctors, I knew that I could get through the surgeries and procedures and make it very unlikely that I would have a recurrence.”

Now that Wasserman Schultz is cancer-free, she wants the EARLY Act to fund $9 million a year from 2010 to 2014 for education campaigns to be developed by the Centers for Disease Control directed toward young women and health care professionals. Far too often, breast cancer goes undetected or misdiagnosed, wasting precious time that is critical to survivors’ success.

“I found my tumor early because of knowledge and awareness,” Wasserman Schultz said. “I knew that I should perform breast self-exams, and I was aware of what my body was supposed to feel like. We need to ensure that every young woman in America can rely on more than luck. Their survival depends on it.”

In a blog posted on Young Survival Coalition’s website, Rashiya Washington talks about being a 20-year-old college student when she found a lump in her breast during her routine breast self-exam. Her doctor told her it was just from her menstrual cycle. Only because her mother insisted she get a second opinion was she finally diagnosed.

“At times, I thought I would die from cancer because I had never known anyone my age to have breast cancer, let alone have it two times in about a three-year period,” Washington said. “I find it surprising that breast cancer awareness is directed at older women even while diagnosis in younger women is on the rise.”

Contrary to popular belief, breast cancer awareness is vitally important for college-age women. Women need to know that no one is too young to get the disease and the greatest chance for their survival literally lies within their own hands. Take the time to get the facts, spread the word and begin monthly breast self-exams today.

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