Younger women may experience greater emotional distress than older women when diagnosed with breast cancer.
Issues of particular concern to younger women include shock and distress at the untimeliness of the disease, a sense of being different and isolated, guilt about the impact on partners, concerns for children, and a sense of being a different person with different priorities. Issues such as early menopause, infertility, sexuality and body image as well as time away from work and family can have a substantial impact, with long term physical, psychological and social effects.
- Physical: The physical burden for young women with breast cancer can include early menopause, infertility, fatigue and sleep problems, weight gain, issues with cardiovascular health and reduction in bone mineral density which could lead to osteopenia and osteoporosis.
- Psychological: In addition to changes in body image and impacts of treatment on sexual wellbeing and relationships, young women often express high levels of fear that their breast cancer may return and this is associated with poorer quality of life.
- Social: Young breast cancer survivors often report that they feel too young for a breast cancer diagnosis and can feel different from others in their age group, as well as different from older women with breast cancer.
Having support during diagnosis and treatment for breast cancer is very important. Having good support from family and friends, from health professionals or special support services makes it much easier to cope with having cancer. It can be difficult for some people to talk about how they are coping. Some women feel they don’t have the words to describe how they’re feeling. Others feel embarrassed or feel that they don’t want to be a burden to family, friends or health professionals.
Partner and family coping
Breast cancer can place a strain on the families, including the partners and children, of younger women. This is especially the case if the woman is treated using chemotherapy or has recurrent disease.1 Partners may have concerns about the woman dying, about taking on new roles and about financial issues.1
Children are affected in different ways by breast cancer in their mother, depending partly on their age. Talk to your treatment team the best way to talk to your children about your breast cancer. Counselling is available to help children cope with their worries.
Further information on the impact of a breast cancer diagnosis on children can be found on Cancer Australia website.
Breast cancer and Menopause
Treatments for breast cancer can affect the age of menopause and can influence the available options for managing menopausal symptoms.
Early or premature menopause caused by breast cancer treatment can be managed successfully. Menopause refers to a woman’s final menstrual period. Menopause occurs when a woman’s ovaries no longer produce eggs, which results in her periods stopping. It usually occurs between the ages of 45 and 55.
Menopause can cause a number of different symptoms and can increase the risk of other health conditions such as osteoporosis. Some women find that menopausal symptoms have little or no impact. For others, menopausal symptoms can be more severe and can affect their quality of life.
Breast cancer in pregnancy is uncommon. Women who are pregnant when their breast cancer is diagnosed have the same outlook as women of similar age with similar tumour types who are not pregnant. However, breast cancer can be diagnosed later in pregnant women because the pregnancy can mask the cancer symptoms.
Some breast cancer treatments are not recommended for women who are pregnant when diagnosed with breast cancer. If a woman is having surgery during the pregnancy, the preferred treatment is often surgery (mastectomy) rather than radiotherapy, because radiotherapy may harm the unborn baby. Whilst chemotherapy is not recommended during the first trimester because it may harm the unborn baby; chemotherapy is often given during the second and third trimesters, when the risk of harm is lower.
If you are diagnosed with breast cancer during pregnancy discuss options for the type and timing of treatment with your treatment team. Most women can successfully complete their pregnancy and give birth to a healthy child.