Breast cancer knows no age

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Jennifer Whalen

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As she sat in the doctorsâÄô office waiting room on Thursday, thinking about the possibility of a breast cancer diagnosis wasnâÄôt new for Kirsten Skifstad, even though sheâÄôs only 20 years old. ItâÄôs a somewhat familiar scene for Skifstad. Now a junior at the University of Minnesota, she first found the lump in her breast during her senior year of high school by doing a breast self-exam. She had the tumor biopsied her freshman year of college and it wasnâÄôt cancerous, but in the past few months Skifstad has feared the tumor is growing âÄî something doctors told her shouldnâÄôt happen. Although doctors dispelled her concerns at her Thursday appointment, Skifstad said her fears havenâÄôt subsided since she first found the lump. Statistics show women ages 20 to 24 have the lowest risk of developing breast cancer, but women at age 20 have a 1 in 1,837 chance of developing breast cancer by the time theyâÄôre 30, according to the American Cancer Society. ItâÄôs a rare occurrence, but still affects young women. âÄúItâÄôs definitely something that you donâÄôt expect to happen,âÄù Skifstad said. âÄúEveryone knows about breast cancer and lumps, but they donâÄôt think it will happen to them.âÄù Diagnosing young women with breast cancer is infrequent at the Breast Center at the University of Minnesota Medical Center-Fairview , where Skifstad is a patient, but not âÄúzero,âÄù center manager Lou Forsythe said. âÄúItâÄôs very rare,âÄù she said, âÄúBut, we all know zero is not zero, so we all have to be very careful.âÄù Forsythe said young women should be familiar with their breasts to increase the chance of finding a lump early. Being trained to do a proper breast self-exam isnâÄôt as important as being able to recognize there is a change in the breast, Forsythe said. Doing self-exams wasnâÄôt something anyone ever told Skifstad to do, but she said she heard about doing them through the media. After finding her lump, Skifstad said itâÄôs been hard to motivate herself to continue doing the exams because sheâÄôs afraid she might find another, but she knows it led her to get the right medical help. âÄúThe doctor was amazed I found the lump,âÄù she said. âÄúNo other doctor had found it before.âÄù It is recommended that women ages 20 to 39 get a clinical breast exam every three years and conduct breast self-exams on a monthly basis, according to the American Cancer Society. Forsythe said women who have a family history of breast cancer or who have the BRCA-1 or BRCA-2 gene, which indicates a higher chance of women developing breast or ovarian cancer in their lifetime, should consider getting mammograms before age 40. Family history is not the only indicator of risk, though. Forsythe said 70 percent of women who donâÄôt have any breast cancer risk factors still develop breast cancer. Making college students aware of these statistics was one of the goals of Colleges Against CancerâÄôs âÄúSaving Second BaseâÄù events last week, as a part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month , president of the University chapter John Kieffer said. The events, which included throwing darts at balloon breasts on cardboard cut-outs of celebrities whoâÄôve had breast cancer, bowling for boobs at GoldyâÄôs Gameroom and selling pink ribbon cookies, also allowed for students to stop and share their stories of how breast cancer has affected their lives, Kieffer said. For Skifstad, sharing her personal experience of a breast cancer scare is a way to make students aware that college-aged women are not immune, she said. Young women who develop breast cancer often face different personal issues than older women, Khadijah Carter, program manager for the Young Survival Coalition, said. Carter said uncomfortable dating situations, trouble getting pregnant and breastfeeding are a few unique situations that younger women with breast cancer can experience. When she tells peers her story, Skifstad said she either gets supportive responses or sympathetic responses, but sympathy is the most annoying. âÄúThere is nothing to be sympathetic about,âÄù she said. âÄúSympathy is appreciated, but itâÄôs not productive.âÄù Offering to attend a doctorâÄôs appointment or be there to talk is what someone in her situation wants to hear, Skifstad said. Skifstad, who went to her Thursday appointment alone, said her experience has made her independent and allowed her to look at life on a day-to-day basis. But, as much relief came over her face when the doctor announced her tumor had not grown, Skifstad said it still never gets easier touching the lump that will remain in her breast. âÄúItâÄôs scary to think something is inside your body that shouldnâÄôt be there,âÄù she said.