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Breast Cancer Knows No Age Limits

Publication: Houston Chronicle

Breast cancer doesn’t adhere to any rules — or age restrictions. Still, a number of women assume that if they’re too young for a mammogram, then they don’t have to worry about a diagnosis.

“There are probably a lot of people — even physicians — who think young women cannot get breast cancer,” Jennifer Sasaki, M.D., M.S., surgical oncologist and breast specialist at Texas Breast Specialists-Houston Fannin said. “You can never rule it out.”

That’s why she’s particularly proud of her 29-year-old patient Megan Lee, who took a proactive approach to her own breast cancer diagnosis.

“She did everything right,” Sasaki said.

Lee’s story starts last fall, when she found a lump in her breast during a self-exam.

“I’m a little young to do a self-exam,” Lee admitted. “But I had a friend who was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 31. It made me a little anxious.”

Lee was only 28 at the time. Still, she knew that the lump in her breast felt odd and out-of-place. She headed to her ob-gyn. He told her, “It’s probably not cancer.”

But she insisted. So he ordered an ultrasound and then a biopsy, which revealed that Lee had invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC). She also had the highest grade possible for the cancer.

Lee connected immediately with Sasaki. “I met with her, and we discussed which route we wanted to take,” Lee said.

She decided to get tested for the BRCA 1 gene, and discovered that she did carry it. “It changed my plans a bit,” she said.

Physicians assured her that a lumpectomy was a viable option for her cancer, but Lee opted instead for a double mastectomy in January. She also elected to have reconstruction. At the time of her surgery, a tissue expander was used to prepare her for implant-based reconstruction.

Lee started chemo six weeks after her surgery and finished a couple of months ago. She is also taking medications to block hormones.

Women have to be proactive about their health - since there are a number of decisions to make. “There are a lot of recommendations and a lot of gray areas,” Lee said. “It’s important for women to be advocates for themselves.”

Her ob-gyn, for example, initially recommended that she wait and watch her lump for a few months to see if further investigation was warranted.

“I wanted to do something more — for peace of mind,” she said. “It’s really important to figure things out quickly.”

Sasaki said that Lee took charge and stands as an example of the importance of self-exams. Even women who are old enough for regular mammograms can use self-examination to catch cancer in-between tests.

“Early detection is key,” she said.

A big part of Sasaki’s job is education, she said. “I want patients to understand their options so they can make the best treatment decisions for themselves.”

Sasaki spent a lot of time outlining which courses Lee could take. “It put my care into my hands,” Lee said. “It gave me a lot of power and input. It made me feel better to know that I did have a say.”

She encourages other women to ask questions and do research. “It’s important to educate yourself and know what your breast feels like, to know what’s normal for you,” she said.

Lee did not know she had a family history of breast cancer until she finished the genetic testing.

“It’s an uncomfortable topic, but talk to your family,” she said. “Understand where you are and your risk level.”

Lee thought that having children would be ruled out due to her chemo — but instead was able to retrieve her eggs before treatment began for IVF at a later date.

“In the beginning, she was unsure whether or not to do it,” Sasaki said. “It’s something that can be done quickly and effectively. It’s something women are very grateful they’ve done after the fact.”

Lee is proof that sometimes family history and genetic predisposition are unknown, Sasaki said, and that patients can still be proactive about their health. She encourages women to get their mammograms at age 40, or younger if they are at high risk.

“Don’t ignore it just because you are young,” she said.

Read the full story on Houston Chronicle.

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