A cancer diagnosis is a life-altering experience for most people, but younger women with breast cancer often face extra challenges specific to their stage of life. As they manage a serious illness, they may also be concerned about raising children, finishing school, managing a career, and building relationships. As a young woman, your interest in some of these issues – such as future fertility or genetics – may affect your treatment decisions, including where to receive your care.
Here is a list of questions to help determine if the cancer center you're considering is right for you.
Do you have a program dedicated to caring for young women with breast cancer?
Founded in 2005, the Young and Strong Program for Young Women with Breast Cancer at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women's Cancer Center (DF/BWCC) is the first and most comprehensive program of its kind in the United States.
The care and treatment of young women with breast cancer is complex, and the clinicians and staff in the Young and Strong program provide young women – age 44 and younger – with comprehensive care, support, and education tailored specifically for them and their loved ones.
How many young women have you treated?
Since its inception, the program has guided more than 5,000 young women on their journeys through and beyond breast cancer.
Are the physicians in your program actively involved in breast cancer research specific to young women?
The clinicians and scientists in the Young and Strong program conduct innovative research specific to breast cancer in young women.
In 2006, Ann H. Partridge, MD, MPH, launched the first multi-site study of young women with breast cancer in the United States. The Young Women's Breast Cancer Study enables researchers to learn more about issues important to young women, including the importance of pregnancy and fertility preservation, concerns regarding sexual health, and issues surrounding surgical decisions – as well as the need to support patients' partners and caregivers. The study also analyzes tissue samples to better understand the unique biology of breast cancer in young women. Some areas of interest include genetic risk factors that disproportionally affect young women diagnosed with breast cancer, as well as better understanding the biology of metastatic disease, HER2+ tumors, and triple-negative disease.
Will I have access to clinical trials?
We offer our breast cancer patients access to more than 50 clinical trials at a time — many of which are changing the standard of care worldwide and are not available elsewhere. Our clinical trials focus on the types and phases of your disease so that therapy can be targeted to your type of breast cancer.
Our clinical trial finder provides an easy way to search for a clinical trial in breast cancer.
Care and Treatment
Who is on the treatment team?
The program staff includes world-renowned breast cancer experts, including medical, surgical, and radiation oncologists, as well as plastic and reconstructive surgeons, who all understand the concerns of young women. They partner with patients to help them make informed decisions about their care.
The care team also includes dedicated nurses, social workers, sexual health specialists, and psychosocial oncologists. One of our dedicated program coordinators will meet with you at your first clinical appointment, and will introduce you to the resources available in the Young and Strong program.
What support does your program offer for issues facing young women with cancer, such as working or attending school during treatment, dating and relationships, parenting, etc.?
The dedicated physicians, nurses, social workers, and coordinators in the Young and Strong program specialize in the care and support of young women with breast cancer. Our program coordinators can connect you with the many resources and services available to you during and after cancer treatment.
You can access additional information on the Young and Strong program website, including information and support for the unique circumstances related to beauty and self-image, work and school, fertility and pregnancy, emotional concerns, and other issues that young adults face when living with cancer, as well as educational events for breast cancer patients of all ages.
Other services available include genetic counseling, integrative medicine, nutrition consults, support groups, social work and counseling services, and much more.
Does your program offer support for concerns around intimacy and sex?
Dana-Farber's Sexual Health Program is committed to addressing your concerns about sexual health as an integral part of your care, from diagnosis and treatment through survivorship. The program provides education, consultation, and personalized rehabilitation counseling for patients and their partners who have experienced changes in sexual health during and after cancer treatment.
Does your program offer resources related to fertility preservation and pregnancy?
Our research has shown that approximately 50% of young women with breast cancer are interested in having children now or in the future. As this issue is important to many of our patients, we address fertility options at diagnosis, while planning treatment, and in the follow-up care plan.
The care team is experienced in helping young women manage breast cancer during pregnancy. If you develop breast cancer while pregnant, or want to become pregnant while undergoing hormone therapy, an expert team of doctors can help you make informed decisions based on your goals and type of cancer.
Does your program offer resources for things like head scarves, hats, wigs, and mastectomy clothing?
Our on-site boutique, Friends' Place, offers personalized consultations for anyone experiencing temporary or permanent appearance changes following cancer treatment. Our experienced, compassionate staff can suggest a variety of ways to minimize the physical effects of cancer therapy, including radiation, chemotherapy, breast surgeries, and other cancer surgeries. You can make an appointment to choose a wig, be fitted for compression garments or breast prostheses, learn how to wrap bandanas and scarves, and receive tips for redrawing eyebrows.
How does your program support caregivers and loved ones?
Patients and their loved ones often face many new concerns and anxieties following a cancer diagnosis. Dana-Farber's licensed social workers, working as part of our Department of Psychosocial Oncology and Palliative Care, can help you and your loved ones with concerns such as depression and anxiety, the impact of cancer on your family and caregivers, discussing your illness and treatment with your children, the impact of cancer on work, school, and finances, conflict resolution, and finding supportive resources in your local community.
If you're a parent living with cancer, social workers in our Family Connections Program can help you deal with the difficult task of managing a family during treatment.
What patient education materials, classes, and/or programs do you offer?
An annual forum for patients, survivors, and caregivers offers education and camaraderie, and smaller workshops are held throughout the year on such topics as sexual health, couples, and survivorship.
We also offer online resources such as educational videos, webchats, and podcasts.
What support groups does your program offer?
We offer a variety of support groups, some of which are specific to young women, including:
- In-person Young and Strong Program patient and caregiver groups at our main campus and satellite locations
- A telephone support group designed to give young patients and survivors an opportunity to discuss topics relevant to young women with breast cancer
- The one-on-one SoulMates peer support program for breast cancer patients of all ages
- The Young Adult Program that is open all young adults with cancer
- The One-to-One peer mentoring service for patients and families
Why is genetic testing important?
About 10% of breast cancers in younger women are the result of inherited mutations (changes) to genes called BRCA1 and BRCA2. These mutations increase a woman's risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer, and might affect treatment decisions. All young women with breast cancer should consider testing for BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations.
Does the program offer genetic testing and counseling for me and my family members?
Dana-Farber developed one of the first clinical cancer genetics and prevention programs in the world. The Center for Cancer Genetics and Prevention includes a team of expert health professionals who provide cancer risk assessment and comprehensive recommendations for managing cancer risk for patients, survivors, their family members, and for individuals who hope to avoid cancer.
We test for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations and other genetic markers linked to breast cancer, and we work with patients to create a personalized treatment plan based on their test results.
Does your program offer support after I finish my cancer treatment?
As a Young and Strong patient, you will continue to be part of the program after you finish active treatment and transition into survivorship. A six-week session, Facing Forward, brings together women of all ages who have completed treatment for early-stage breast cancer.
In addition, Dana-Farber's Adult Survivorship Program, part of the Perini Family Survivors' Center, is available to help you find expertise, education, and support to help manage issues related to surviving cancer. This includes managing the risk of second cancers, understanding the long-term effects of treatment, and addressing social, physical, or psychological concerns.
Our physicians, nurses, researchers, and psychologists are experts in survivorship, and will work with you and your primary care physician to create a plan for living well beyond cancer.