Why Are Young People Being Removed From the Discourse Surrounding Breast Cancer?

CW: breast cancer, death, infertility.

The opinions expressed in this piece are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of The Hysteria Collective as a whole.

It is the one thing that you search for that you never want to find. A lump. Despite the devastating effects of breast cancer and the very hard decisions that many young people may have to make in the future, young people have been left out of the discourse surrounding the disease. Anyone with family members who have had breast cancer may be at risk of having the BRCA gene. This gene may cause you to be more likely to develop breast cancer and can change the path that your future will follow. 

Watching adverts for cancer research is a different experience for me. My nan passed away from breast cancer when I was young and, due to my family’s medical history, it may be likely that I will test positive for the BRCA gene. 1 in 2 adults will get cancer in their lifetime. Most likely, the one will be me. Of course this worries me like it would for any human. But there is some level of acceptance to this. What worries me more is the fact that young people are removed from the conversation surrounding breast cancer.

Most young people who are diagnosed with breast cancer are self-diagnosed, normally after finding a lump. The lack of education for young people on how to check for lumps and the tests that one can take to prevent late diagnosis is worrying. Mammograms and blood tests can help find cancerous cells before they grow out of control. However, these are not available to most young people. Mammograms are not recommended for people under the age of 40 but regular ones are offered to younger adults if the person does test positive for the BRCA gene.

But how can we offer screening if we don’t frequently promote young people to take the test to identify the BRCA gene? Teaching young people about the importance of this test and how to check for lumps would help to reduce the mortality rate of breast cancer patients. It is common knowledge that the faster a cancerous lump is found, the more likely it is that the patient will be able to have it removed and will fully recover. 

If a young person is diagnosed with breast cancer, there are numerous decisions that will need to be made surrounding treatments and fertility. Some treatments for cancer can affect fertility and make it more difficult for the person to have children in the future. Planning for a family becomes even more important earlier on in a person’s life, giving them many difficult questions that need to be answered. Chemotherapy can often pause menstruation, cause early menopause or even make a person completely infertile. With the preservation of fertility often being extremely expensive, a young person’s options are severely limited. The idea of adopting can be daunting and it can be difficult for a couple to accept that they may never be able to have their own biological child. Educating young people about the treatments and changes to fertility may give people more time to weigh up their options. 

Young people should be given access to the resources that could help save their lives. Mammograms, testing for the BRCA gene, and how to search for lumps should all be common knowledge for young people. However, adverts and information have been targeted at the middle aged population creating a conversation that removes young people from something that could prevent future emotional and physical trauma. Cancer is a difficult subject to approach but one that needs to be normalised. 

It is so important to check your breasts regularly and educate ourselves about the signs of breast cancer.

Resources for more information surrounding breast cancer and the BRCA gene can be found here: BRCA fact sheet , NHS genetic tests.

Image courtesy of Victoria Strukovskaya.

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