Study shows slight increase in young women with breast cancer

Lisa Miller walks her dog near her Taneytown home Oct. 5. Miller was just 27 and newly married when she was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer in 2010.
Lisa Miller walks her dog near her Taneytown home Oct. 5. Miller was just 27 and newly married when she was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer in 2010. (DAVE MUNCH/STAFF PHOTO, Carroll County Times)

Lisa Miller was just 27 and newly married when she was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer in 2010.
Miller, of Taneytown, and her husband found a lump, but waited, thinking that she might be pregnant. A month later, she went to a gynecologist, who advised her to wait, in case it was a hormonal imbalance, she said.
Within a month or two, it started to grow and her gynecologist sent her to a breast surgeon. The surgeon did a biopsy, and determined it was cancerous.
"Even the doctor thought it was a benign tumor," Miller said.
Her surgeon told her there was a 95 percent chance it was benign, and after Miller got home she wondered about the other 5 percent. She called her doctor back, and her doctor explained that it could be cancerous, but she didn't think it would be.
Her doctor didn't initially anticipate breast cancer because it is so rare that young women develop the disease. Just about 1.8 percent of all cases of breast cancer are diagnosed in women ages 20 to 34, and 10 percent are diagnosed in women ages 35 to 44, according to a February study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
According to the National Cancer Institute, roughly one in 273 30-year-old women will be diagnosed with breast cancer.
The number is rising, although doctors aren't sure why. The study found advanced cases of breast cancer climbed to 2.9 per 100,000 women ages 25 to 39 in 2009, from 1.53 per 100,000 women in the same age range in 1976.
In the 1970s, roughly 250 new cases of advanced breast cancer were diagnosed. In 2009, the number was more than 800.
Miller's oncologist, Dr. Flavio Kruter, the medical director of the Carroll Regional Cancer Center, said aggressive cancers tend to show up in younger women because they're being caught earlier. An aggressive cancer that would be deadly if found in 10 years is now found earlier, which means women can be younger when they are diagnosed.
"I think we're diagnosing it more, but I don't think it's because there are more young women with breast cancer," Kruter said. "I think the widespread use of mammograms and with the awareness of the possibility of breast cancer being a hereditary disease, I think more women are getting mammograms earlier."
Miller's diagnosis, triple negative breast cancer, is even more rare. These tumors are known as triple negative because they lack three different kinds of receptors that are often used to target breast cancer in treatment.
According to the Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation, approximately 10 to 20 percent of breast cancer is triple negative.
When Miller was diagnosed, she said she immediately became informed about the disease.
Within a year, Miller went through a surgery where they found four tumors, did round after round of chemotherapy, had a mastectomy, and had 33 rounds of radiation treatment. By November 2010, the breast cancer was gone.
She'll be hitting her three-year mark of being cancer free this November.
Approximately one in 26 women over the age of 70 is diagnosed with breast cancer every year, compared to one in 68 for a 40-year-old woman, according to the National Cancer Institute.
While Miller did not have any history of cancer in her family, breast cancer or otherwise, now that she's recovered, she's looking forward to another goal: having children with her husband. Though Miller has a 10-year-old stepson, she does hope to have children of her own one day.
Kruter said breast cancer does affect fertility, though he has had several young patients who have had children after breast cancer. Susan G. Komen For the Cure, a breast cancer foundation, recommends taking measures prior to chemotherapy such as storing embryos or taking drugs that can shut down the ovaries during chemotherapy.
Miller said overall, she researched everything she could about her diagnosis, but didn't focus on the negative. Now, three years breast cancer free, she takes a multivitamin every day, exercises often and is conscious of what she eats.
"Of course you have 'cancer-itis' sometimes," she said.
She notices pains a lot more frequently, or will immediately think a bad cough could be lung cancer, she said with a laugh. Regardless, Miller said she's more in tune with her body, which is ultimately better.
"Laugh as much as you can, spend time with family and friends. Definitely enjoy the small things in life," she said.