by Sophie Davaris, Tribune de Genève, 25 October 2013 (translated from French by the Editor of this blog.)
In Geneva, the most frequent cancer in young women sometimes occurs before age 40
Breast cancer is striking more and more women of all ages. If the overwhelming majority of the victims are over age 50, the proportion of young women afflicted with the disease is increasing. “Out of some 500 new cases diagnosed each year in Geneva, 40 to 50 concern women under age 40,” says Professor Monica Castiglione-Gertsch, responsible for the Medical Gynecological Oncology Unit at the University Hospital of Geneva (HUG). On the occasion of Breast Cancer Month, the specialists speak.
“The phenomenon, already observed in Geneva for several years, appears in other Western societies,” adds Professor André-Pascal Sappino, former head of cancer at HUG, now at the Grangettes Clinic. The Internet reports an increase of 25% in the number of cases over the last five years. The specialist confirms this, but it remains difficult to explain.
“Studies have shown that eating fatty foods and consuming alcohol are not good, as well as being obese,” declares Monica Castiglione-Gertsch. “Physical exercise, the fact of having had ehildren at a young age and of nursing them is beneficial.” Professor Sappino is conducting a study on the role of aluminum contained in deodorants, the results of which should be made known in the coming months.
In 2011, HUG created « A Breast Center », in order to reorganize care and treatment around each patient. In spite of this, the announcement of the news always rings as devastation. “Today, I am receiving significantly more patients between age 30 and 40 than 10 years ago,” says André-Pascal Sappino. “They are horrified, stunned, because often they do not feel sick!”
The announcement of such a diagnosis is more difficult at this age because many women would like to have children. Threatened by chemotherapy, treatments to preserve fertility are proposed, but according to Professor Sappino, some of these strategies are still experimental. Another difficulty: “The proportion of high-risk cancers is greater in young women. Mortality also.”
Fortunately, over the last 20 years, treatment has greatly progressed. “Today, 75-80% of women pull through. In the past, half of them died. Thanks to screening, we can diagnose a greater number of pre-invasive cancers, only a fraction of which are susceptible to degenerating. We are over-treating a certain number of women.”
What advice to give ? “I would say, be well-informed about family history,” replies André-Pascal Sappino. “If a cancer appears at a young age, increase vigilance. All women should examine their breasts and palpate them once a month. Sometimes, liquid comes out of the nipple. But all too often, breast cancer is painless. And therein, lies all the difficulty.”
(The original article in French is not available on-line.)