New Research Suggest Breast Cancer "Different" In Younger Women

December 10, 2012

Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in women after skin cancer. Breast cancer forms in the cells of the breast, typically in the milk ducts though it can begin in other parts of the breast. It is well-established that timely diagnosis and treatment can improve prognosis for breast cancer patients. According to new research, breast cancer is biologically "different" in younger women, those 35 and younger, compared to women who develop the disease at an older age. As discussed below, this research will not necessarily improve patient diagnosis or reduce the rate of misdiagnosis, it may improve the effectiveness of treatment and, therefore, patient prognosis.

The breast cancer patient's treating physician is responsible for determining appropriate treatment options. The primary treatment options for breast cancer are one or more of the following: 1) radiation therapy; 2) chemotherapy; 3) hormone therapy; 4) targeted drugs; and 5) surgery. These treatment options have historically been based largely on the type of breast cancer, the cancer stage, and overall patient health.

According to new research, a patient's age may also be an important factor in determining the best treatment plan. It is well recognized that breast tumors in younger women, those age 35 and younger, are generally more aggressive than those that develop in women age 36 and over. For some time, oncologists have also known that so-called "triple negative breast cancer" is more aggressive than other forms of breast cancer. Triple negative breast cancer is a type of breast cancer that is negative for certain receptors like estrogen, progesterone and hormonal epidermal growth. Unfortunately, triple negative breast cancer is often an aggressive form of cancer effecting 10-20% of breast cancer patients and this cancer does not respond well hormonal therapy. As a result, researchers are looking into new ways to fight triple negative breast cancer.

German researchers from the University of Frankfurt have completed an extensive study showing younger women who develop breast cancer often have a biologically different form of breast cancer than women who are age 36 and over. These researchers determine what some doctors have suspected--that younger women are more likely to have triple-negative breast cancer compared to older women. Based on these findings, the researchers believe younger women, particularly those with triple negative breast cancer, should have a specific type of therapy "called neoadjuvant chemotherapy" before having surgery. This therapy is intended to downsize the cancer before surgery and to assess the responsiveness of the tumor to chemotherapy. Thus, this new research could help physicians better treat their younger patients by knowing the biological differences in cancer often associated with younger women compared to those that are older. Hopefully, these and others studies can ultimately improve prognosis for breast cancer patients through more effective forms of treatment.

Sources Used:

Medical News Today, Breast Cancer 'Different' In Younger Women, December 7, 2012.

John Hopkins School Of Medicine Website, Triple Negative Cancer, Viewed December 10, 2012.