HOUSTON – There has been an increase in the last few years in the number of young women, ages 25 to 39, diagnosed with breast cancer.
The diagnosis of breast cancer can be shocking for anyone, but for younger women, it brings up many questions and concerns that affect the entire family.
Yolanda Jenkins and her wife, Deanna, enjoy playing Scrabble with their two daughters. But Yolanda couldn’t find the right words when she received a shocking diagnosis from her doctor.
Jenkins, 31, and her family faced an uncertain future.
"My kids were the first thing that came to my head, whether or not I could make it for them," Yolanda said.
Her doctor said a diagnosis like hers is rare.
"You just don't see someone who is 31 with breast cancer," breast oncologist Dr. Thomas Samuel said.
Samuel said only about 2 percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer are under 40.
"But when women of that age get diagnosed, there are some different issues that we have to address," he said.
One of the main concerns for many is preserving fertility. Treatments like chemotherapy and radiation can have an impact.
"Have the conversation, you know, what can I do to preserve my eggs, to preserve my fertility," Samuel said.
Many facilities, including Houston's M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, have a reproductive specialist on the treatment team. They consult with patients like Jenkins about options, including egg retrieval and injections to keep ovaries dormant during cancer treatments.
Young mothers like Jenkins also struggle with telling their children about their diagnosis.
But "children are incredibly resilient," Samuel said. "So most people are surprised when they do finally have that conversation, how supportive they are."
Another big concern that younger women face is body image. Jenkins chose to have a bilateral mastectomy to reduce her risk of recurrence. It’s been a difficult journey, but she’s learned to love herself in the process.
"I feel good and I'm glad I didn't give up," Jenkins said.
She finished her cancer treatment and is doing well.
To assess your risk of developing breast cancer in your lifetime, click here.
To read more about fertility options after cancer treatment, click here.