Breast Cancer

Despite the perception that breast cancer is only something older women need to worry about, young women can and do get breast cancer. Sharing this knowledge is critical because young women’s breast cancers are generally more aggressive, are diagnosed at a later stage, and result in lower survival rates. One of the reasons they are diagnosed at a later stage is because many young women simply don’t think they can get breast cancer - that breast cancer is something that only happens to older women. And even if they do suspect something is wrong, too many physicians dismiss their concerns because they also believe that the woman is simply too young to have breast cancer.

Additionally, certain ethnic groups, including Ashkenazi Jews, and African American young women, have an increased risk of breast cancer. Several years ago, I was a young woman at high risk, but didn’t know it. In late 2007, I heard those terrible words, “you have breast cancer.” And for as much as I knew as an advocate in the fight against breast cancer in over 20 years as a legislator, there was much I didn’t know.

At the time, I did not know that as an Ashkenazi Jew, I was five times more likely to have the BRCA 1 or BRCA2 gene mutation. I did not know that carriers of the BRCA gene mutations have up to an 85 percent lifetime chance of getting breast cancer and up to a 60 percent chance of getting ovarian cancer. After my diagnosis, I found out that I do have the BRCA2 mutation. I was fortunate that I knew enough about my risks and got the help I needed, but I didn’t find my tumor through luck. I found it through knowledge and awareness.

Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz speaks to survivors and advocates at the media kickoff the Komen Global Race for the Cure in Washington, DC. April 2, 2014.


We can never, ever say it enough: every woman—especially every young woman—has to take charge of her health and do what’s right for her. And if we say it loud enough and often enough, there’s no telling how many women we’ll help. That’s why I introduced the Breast Cancer Education and Awareness Requires Learning Young Act, or the EARLY Act, which became law along with the Affordable Care Act in 2010. The EARLY Act focuses on a central tenet: that we must empower young women to understand their bodies and speak up for their health. It creates an education and outreach campaign that highlights the breast cancer risks facing young women 45 and under, and empowers them with the tools they need to fight this deadly disease. It helps educate and sensitize health care providers about the specific threats and warning signs of breast cancer in younger women that lead to early detection, diagnosis, and survival. One component of the EARLY Act is an advisory panel – the Advisory Committee on Breast Cancer in Young Women – at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This Advisory Panel is providing guidance to the CDC on developing programs to advance understanding and awareness of breast cancer among young women through prevention research, public and health professional education and awareness activities, and emerging prevention strategies. In 2011 the CDC awarded seven funding grants to organizations as part of a broader effort to support breast cancer awareness in young women.

Looking to the future, I am committed to finding those areas of cancer treatment and awareness that still have such a long way to go, and working on legislative solutions to fill those voids. When I introduced the EARLY Act, it was a direct result of my own experience with breast cancer. I wanted to make sure that young women facing the same kind of tough decisions that I did would have the support they need.

But as we learn all the time, there is still such a long way to go. More and more young people are getting cancer, and metastasis rates are not going down. That is why I introduced legislation into the Defense Appropriations bill that would create a new task force to study metastatic cancer of all types, focusing on clinical and translational research to extend the lives of patients. This research panel would study stage III and IV of all types of cancer, searching for clues in tumor growth and genetic patterns that different cancers share. When we stop looking at cancer types in silos and focus on what they share, we will make tremendous progress in stopping tumor growth and saving lives!

Beyond metastatic cancer, we need to focus on survivorship issues. Patients in their 20s, 30s, and 40s have a completely different experience than patients in their 50s, 60s, or 70s, and it is vital that we recognize and honor and focus on those differences. For young cancer patients, we should be working to help preserve fertility that is often jeopardized as a result of cancer treatment. It is hard enough to be told you have cancer at a young age – but there’s no reason that treating the disease should prevent young women from having children down the road. And the younger that patients are diagnosed with cancer, the longer they will then have to deal with being survivors, presenting a whole new set of physical and psychosocial challenges.

Together, we can save more of our moms, sisters, grandmothers, daughters and sister-friends. So please, help us get a head start by talking to the women in your life today. We must give more women the power to stand up, the power to speak up and the power to survive.


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    repName John Smith  
    helpWithFedAgencyAddress Haverhill District Office
    1234 S. Courthouse
    Haverhill, CA 35602
    district 21st District of California  
    academyUSCitizenDate July 1, 2012  
    academyAgeDate July 1, 2012  
    academyApplicationDueDate October 20, 2012  
    repStateABBR AZ  
    repDistrict 1  
    repState Arizona  
    repDistrictText 1st  
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