A breast cancer diagnosis can change patients’ lives in ways they could never have imagined. That’s especially true in the rare cases where women under 40 are diagnosed with the disease.
According to the American Cancer Society, it is uncommon for women under 40 to be diagnosed with breast cancer. In fact, data from the ACS indicates that only about 4 percent of all women with breast cancer in the United States are under the age of 40. But 4 percent is nothing to brush aside, especially when the ACS estimates that more than 300,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with breast cancer each year. That means about 12,000 women under the age of 40 in the US will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year, and many of those women will understandably express concern about the return of cancer in the coming years.
The medical experts at Johns Hopkins Medicine note that learning to cope with the fear of breast cancer recurrence is an important part of the recovery process. Those same experts note that several lifestyle changes can help women regain their health, strength, and optimism, and quell their fears about cancer recurrence.
• Take care of yourself, both emotionally and physically. Johns Hopkins Medicine urges breast cancer survivors to sometimes put their own needs first. That can be difficult for younger breast cancer survivors with children at home, but prioritizing their own emotional well-being can help women overcome their fear of recurrence. Support groups can connect women with other breast cancer survivors, and women should not hesitate to discuss their fears or concerns with their doctors. It is also vital that women prioritize their physical well-being. Routine exercise and a healthy diet can help women reduce stress and maintain a healthy weight, which can reduce the risk of recurrence.
• Stay informed about screenings and vaccinations. Another way to reduce the risk of cancer recurrence is to stay up to date with screenings, flu shots, and vaccinations. Annual physical exams and screenings for cardiovascular conditions like high cholesterol and diabetes can help keep women on a healthy path.
• Check vitamin D levels. Johns Hopkins Medicine notes that the Nurses Health Study has found a link between low levels of vitamin D and the incidence of breast cancer. It remains unknown whether vitamin D supplements can lower the risk of breast cancer recurrence, but maintaining adequate vitamin D levels can promote overall health. Women can talk to their doctor about vitamin D and which supplements to consider. In addition, spending 20 minutes a day in the sun while wearing sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 30 can help women achieve recommended vitamin D levels.
Cancer recurrence is a major concern for survivors. However, several strategies can help women reduce their risk of recurrence and help them regain their optimism for the future.