Three things every young woman should know about her breasts

One of the best things about having breast cancer in the digital age is the ability to build community without boarders. Recently, I was scrolling through Instagram and came across a post from testicular cancer survivor Justin Birckbichler. He shared his excitement about the curriculum he created to help teachers discuss testicular cancer with high school students.

Ironically, I had just told the ladies in my Young Survival Coalition support group breast health should be taught as early as high school. I left a comment on Justin's post and he actually reached out to me to share his process and the material he created for his cause. While I intend to take up the charge to educate young women in my community, I figured the best place for me to start is to share the things I wish someone would have told me. 

Here are three things I believe every young woman should know about her breasts.

  • 1) Young women can and do get breast cancer 

I can't tell you how many doctors and healthcare professionals repeatedly told me I was too young to have breast cancer. The reality is each year, approximately 70,000 men and women age 15 to 39 are diagnosed with cancer in the US and breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in this age group. Although breast cancer in young women is rare, knowing it's a possibility is enough to help women advocate for themselves in a world that generally dismisses our breast health concerns. At the age of 26, my initial diagnosis was a breast infection. Eight months and two doctors later, I received an accurate diagnosis.

  • 2) how to detect breast ABNORMALITIES 

Nearly 80 percent of young women diagnosed with breast cancer find their breast abnormality themselves. According to Breast360.org,  breast self-exams (BSEs) can start as early as puberty and continue throughout a woman's lifetime. Most lumps are benign, but what's important is women understand what their normal breast tissue and surrounding areas feel like.

I never felt a lump, but after noticing one of my breasts was swollen and painful, it was a breast self-exam that helped me discover the nipple discharge. Breast self-exams can be completed in 5-10 minutes and should be performed once a month. For simple instructions on how to do a breast self-exam, visit breastcancer.org.

  • 3) There are more screening options than a mammogram

According to youngsurvival.org, "there is no effective breast cancer screening tool yet for women under 40, most of whom have dense breast tissue that prevents routine mammograms from being a useful screening tool."  I remember reading a disclaimer on the back of my results about mammograms not being effective for women with dense breast tissue, like myself but my doctor at the time also ordered an ultrasound which came back negative as well. I knew something was wrong, but thought all that could be done to detect the cancer was done. That is until I was referred to a breast surgeon who ordered a breast MRI that ultimately led to my biopsy.

Considering my family history, had I known there were other options after my initial screenings came back negative, I would have asked to take the additional test just to be sure.  *No test is 100 percent accurate, but used together they can provide the best image of breast tissue. Talk to your doctor about any concerns you may have regarding your breast exam or risk factors for breast cancer. To learn more about breast imaging, visit breast360.org.

Surviving cancer in the digital age not only allows me to find my tribe without limitations, it also allows me to use my experience to educate others. All advocacy starts with education and at the end of the day, you are your best advocate.