Breast cancer at 20? It can happen

Even students need to check themselves, as one woman's tale shows

Now Breast Cancer Awareness Month is over for another year, it is more important than ever to stress a key word: “awareness”. While over 80 per cent of breast cancers occur in women over the age of 50, and the chances of developing the disease in your twenties are relatively slim, it does not hurt to become and remain aware.

People of all ages and from different walks of life are affected by breast cancer, and when it sneakily rears its ugly face, be it to you or a loved one, it can feel like the end of the world. Support and guidance is offered to patients and their families after diagnoses but you could also battle the disease before you enter the risk category of developing it. That’s right; you can try and prevent breast cancer early on by knowing your stuff, whether you are 20 or 60, a student or retired.

Various breast cancer charities across the UK, including Breast Cancer Care, offer information about breast awareness, how you can identify anything out of the ordinary and when to seek medical advice. As a student, it can be daunting thinking about these sorts of things, especially if you are far from home. However, your health should be at the top of your priorities list and so performing the relevant checks regularly can save you a lot of unnecessary stress.

Take care to take care of yourself

While it is extremely rare to develop breast cancer in your 20s and 30s, there are still other breast-related issues that you need to be aware of such as fibroadeonmas and other benign conditions include calcifications, cysts, duct ectasia, fat necrosis, gynaecomastia, Mondor’s disease and many more. The most important thing to know is that everyone is different so be aware of anything that may appear different for you. For more information, click here

A breast check needn’t be time-consuming or frightening. It can take a couple of minutes while in the shower or getting ready and simply involves having a good look in the mirror and feeling around for anything unusual.

Meanwhile, make sure that you are registered at your university medical centre/surgery if you are living away from home. Do not feel that any concern you might have is too small – your GP will be happy to give a professional opinion and, if necessary, offer further advice.

Case study: It can happen at university

One 22 year-old student, who wishes to remain anonymous, speaks about her scare when she discovered a breast lump back in her first year at the University of Kent

Starting university fresh out of sixth form back in 2010 was one of the most exciting experiences of my life. By my second term, my studies were going well, I had made some great friends and I had a couple of festivals lined up for the summer to look forward to. But one day I noticed a lump in my right breast.

I ignored it for a few weeks until I spoke to a friend about it and she made me book an appointment with the on-campus medical centre. I was seen to immediately and referred to my local breast clinic back home so I could be with my family. Luckily the lump turned out to be a benign (non-cancerous) fibroadenoma, but it had grown by a couple of millimeters in the last month and so I was given the option to have it removed.

I had a quick and painless operation to remove it two months later, had a few follow-up appointments and was putting my tent up at Hop Farm Festival in no time. While fibroadenomas are common – especially in young women – and do not increase the risk of developing breast cancer, I could not help but feel like I had a lucky escape.

Two and a half years on, I still make sure that I check for anything unusual as often as possible, and encourage my friends to do so too. I have a scar but I love it because it reminds me just how important it is to look after yourself.

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