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New breast cancer data reveals that the incidence of late-stage metastatic breast cancer is on the rise for women 25 to 39. The study, published in the Feb. 27 Journal of the American Medical Association, was conducted by researchers at the University of Washington, Seattle, and St. Charles Health System. The study found that in the last three decades, the number of cases affecting younger women tripled to 850 in 2009. Researchers do not know the reason behind the increase.  Meanwhile, health care providers recognize this news may be unsettling for women under the age of 40 who have been told to wait to have a mammogram until that age.

Lovelace breast surgeon Dr. Cal Ridgeway advises all women to maintain awareness that breast cancer is the most common cancer for women. “All women should do monthly self breast exams and have a clinical breast exam once a year,” he says. “Then they will know their baseline exam and if there is a change, they will be more apt to catch it quickly.”

Susan Pompeo, 34, and Andrea Contreras, 32, shared their stories of discovering breast cancer in their 30s while they were having children and raising families. Neither had a family history of breast cancer and believed they were too young for breast cancer. In both situations, the women decided to fight their breast cancer head on and aggressively through chemotherapy, surgery and radiation.

Dr. Ridgeway says the JAMA study does not mean that women under the age of 40 should be getting mammogram screenings, however. “Mammograms under the age of 40 are not effective for screening, because of breast density,” he says. “Most breast masses in the younger age group turn out to be benign, but they should all be checked out carefully.”

If you have any questions regarding your breast health, contact your health care provider.

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