Having breast cancer under 50

Breonna Mack hosts a photo shoot – "Bald for Bre"
Photo credit: Breonna Mack via Facebook 

According to breastcancer.org, one in eight women will develop breast cancer, and an estimated 266,120 new cases are predicted to emerge this year alone.

What is not predictable is how many of those cases will occur in women under the suggested age of your first mammogram. Oncologists encourage women to have their first mammogram at the age of 50, or as early as 45 unless you are already at a higher risk of sustaining breast cancer.

 In April Macklin’s case, where prior to her diagnosis cancer had not been proven to be present in her family’s history – 50 years old would have been too late.

“I was doing a monthly self-exam and I realized there was a lump on my right breast,” Macklin, who is 41, said as she recalled how she first became suspicious. “After my menstrual cycle ended the abnormality in my chest would too, but when it did not this particular time I reached out to my doctor.”

The Florida mother of four explained how she avoided having a mammogram out of fear that the radiation would cause cancer. “Had I done a mammogram instead of just self-exams I could have caught it earlier than stage three,” Macklin continued.

After being diagnosed on Dec.28 in 2016, Macklin underwent the process of a double mastectomy, chemo, and radiation, but shared that even after losing her breasts and her hair nothing compared to the moment she shared the news with her children.

“The hardest part was telling my kids,” Macklin said. “I had a genetic test that came back positive for the Cellobiohydrolase 1 (CBH1) gene which is susceptible to cancer so, now my daughters are being advised to be tested ten years earlier than my diagnosis age.”

Even though 41 is just a few years under the “to be safe” age of 45, there are women like Breonna Mack who are being diagnosed well under 20 years of the suggested age of a mammogram.

“I was in the shower when I felt a lump," Mack said. “I told my mom, and she told me to book an appointment with my OBGYN.” After meeting with her doctors who initially told her that it was probably nothing, provided a mammogram request to be safe. Mack, 27 at the time, was denied the exam. “They told me they would not perform a mammogram on a 27-year old because of the radiation,” Mack explained.

April Macklin before and after being diagnosed with breast cancer.
Photo credit: April Macklin via Facebook

“A younger patient denied a mammogram is possibly due to the probability of a cyst or something non-cancerous, so what normally happens is if you have any symptoms that seem cancerous, a biopsy can be performed for fluid or cells,” said Ricardo Bailey, a third-year medical student at Florida State University (FSU) College of Medicine.

Unfortunately for Mack, that information was not provided, she said it wasn’t until she received a new job that she was able to get a second opinion.

“It wasn’t until I got a new job with better benefits that I was able to get a second opinion. I remember getting ready to go on my lunch break when I got a call,” Mack continued as she recalled the day that her results were confirmed. I was officially diagnosed with stage 3A Inductive Invasive Carcinoma that was seven-centimeters and had spread to my lymph nodes. I was in disbelief.”

Since so many cases are expected to arise in the new year, the concern is what new options are being implemented to better detect these cancers and what techniques are out there that provide the same accuracy as a mammogram – yet is safer than the radiation for women of all ages.

“A mammogram is the best option for early detection,” Bailey said. “None of the imaging techniques is one hundred percent, but as far as I know these are the best practiced.”

Science has enabled so much improvement in health, but the best place to start in your journey to a healthy life is by first knowing your family’s health history. “I am so glad I made it a routine to self-exam for years because I knew my breast so I was alert,” Macklin said.

“Know your body well enough to realize when something is wrong, and “don’t be afraid to get a second, third or fourth opinion,” Mack said.