Study Reveals Delayed Response to Breast Cancer Symptoms in Young Women

Breast Cancer in Young Women
Breast Cancer in Young Women. Credit | Getty images

United States: Breast cancer in young women who notice a lump or feel any other symptoms, could take weeks to come to the health system even after a delay in seeing a doctor, a new study shows.

In general, young women who experienced suspicious changes in breast health waited two weeks or even more before seeking medical help, according to the researchers. Among the young, more than a third of breast cancer patients waited over a month before looking for care.

Lead Researcher’s Warning

The delayed response stands for danger, said lead researcher Dr. Katherine Fleshner, who is a doctor at the University of Calgary in Canada.

“Because young women typically do not undergo regular screening mammography and because the disease is rare in this population, patients are usually diagnosed at a later stage than older patients,” Fleshner said. “They may ignore or dismiss their concerns early on.”

“However, their cancers also usually are more aggressive, so seeking medical care is important,” Fleshner added.

Research Details

Visual Representation of Breast Cancer in Young Women. Credit | Getty images

During this research, scientists looked at the survey data from 1,148 women aged 18-40 who had participated in the RUBY study (Reducing the Burden of Breast Cancer in Young Women) from 2015 to 2022.

This RUBY study deals with patients who are young and have been diagnosed with breast cancer before reaching the age of 41 years. Participants’ median age was 37.

Approximately eight out of ten cancer patients (89%) complained about the cancer symptoms. Mammography is not the only choice for breast cancer detection. Out of those, 77% had a palpable lump.

Other symptoms can also be present, such as breast skin dimpling, nipple pain, nipple retraction, discharge form the nipples, and swollen lymph nodes under the arm or near the collar bones, as reported by the American Cancer Society.

Reasons for Delay

Patients denied that they delayed seeing a doctor due to several reasons, which may include apprehension, waiting for their next cycle, another practitioner’s assurance, difficulty in finding care, among others, and the quest to attend to many commitments.

According to researchers, the reassurance that practitioners provide can range from informal advice given by family members who have practiced the health care profession to a regular doctor’s visit that does not diagnose the problem.

“Some primary care physicians may have difficulty teasing out which symptoms truly need a workup, partly because most young patients present with benign complaints,” Fleshner said. “Additionally, potentially some early cancers may be misdiagnosed, or patients who believe they were misdiagnosed may actually have experienced a benign issue, and unrelated cancer develops later on.”

Breast cancer patients with a painful lump or a close relative who had this malignancy had to postpone their visits to a doctor, the analysis indicated.

As the research found, patients in those conditions are likely to postpone treatment out of fear or denial.

On the other hand, the recent research shows that not all symptom cases resulted in a delay, where just 10% of the patients were subject to such a delay in care.

Presentation at Conference

The research’s findings were made public this week at the American Society of Breast Surgeons yearly Meeting in Orlando, Fla. Please be aware that meeting presentation data are not considered definitive until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Fleshner advised that persistent symptoms should lead women to the doctor for a regular examination.