A new survey has shown that 1 in 10 younger women with breast cancer notice their first symptom during pregnancy or when breastfeeding.
The survey of almost 500 women with breast cancer aged under 45 also found that more than a third (39%) of younger women go through treatment when their youngest child is five or under.
Diagnosed during pregnancy
Breast cancer during pregnancy can be treated effectively without affecting the unborn baby. But being diagnosed while pregnant can be particularly isolating and can greatly affect a woman’s experience of her pregnancy and early motherhood.
Kate Howard, 34, mum-of-two from the West Midlands, found out she was pregnant with her second son a few days before she was diagnosed with breast cancer in April 2015.
‘I was totally overjoyed to find out I was pregnant,’ she said. ‘Then only a few days later I was told the small bump I’d found on my breast was breast cancer. I worried I wouldn’t be able to carry on with my pregnancy.
‘These early days were such a tough time. I was so relieved I was able to have a mastectomy when 13 weeks along. But it wasn’t easy. Recovering from surgery I had to spend precious time apart from our three-year-old son Oliver.’
The treatment given depends on the type and extent of the breast cancer, and the stage of pregnancy in which it’s diagnosed.
Samia al Qadhi, Chief Executive of Breast Cancer Care, said: ‘A breast cancer diagnosis during pregnancy or soon after giving birth can mean some women find it difficult to bond with their baby. The feelings of guilt can be huge and they may feel they have nowhere to turn. So access to support is vital.’
Breast Cancer Care calls for anyone diagnosed in pregnancy to be referred to a specialist with expertise in treating women who are diagnosed when pregnant.
Impact on young mums
Among the women surveyed who had young children, over half said the biggest impact of their breast cancer treatment was being too ill to care for their children.
Amanda Mealing, Breast Cancer Care Ambassador, actress and mum-of-two, was diagnosed with breast cancer at 34, just a day after her second son was born.
‘Throughout treatment I faced sickness and extreme fatigue all while trying to be there for my kids – it was totally overwhelming,’ she said. ‘Breast Cancer Care was there for me from day one. You don’t have to go through this alone, Breast Cancer Care can be there for you too.’
Samia al Qadhi commented: ‘Being told you have breast cancer when you have a young family is devastating. Many mums feel they miss out on precious time with their children because they are going back and forth to hospital for treatment or may be dealing with debilitating side effects – time they will never get back.’
Meeting the needs of younger women
While breast cancer is not common in younger women, around 5,600 women aged under 45 are diagnosed with breast cancer every year. Being diagnosed as a younger woman can be a very isolating experience, and many younger women can go through treatment without meeting anyone else their age in their situation.
Breast Cancer Care’s Younger Women Together events give people the chance to meet other women under 45 who’ve been diagnosed with primary breast cancer.
Our Care and support for younger women with breast cancer leaflet lists our free services for younger women with breast cancer, and features our Standard of care for younger women with breast cancer.