The findings are not a reason to change current mammography screening guidelines, Johnson added. Many organizations recommend routine screenings beginning at age 40, although the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force now recommends routine mammogram screenings need not begin until age 50.
The finding does stress the importance of younger women being aware of breast changes and the importance of seeking medical attention when they find such changes, she said.
For the study, Johnson and her team looked at data from the U.S. National Cancer Institute Registry.
The researchers looked at information about whether the cancer was localized or had spread to organs, bones, brains or the lungs. The increase was found among all races and ethnicities from 1992 (when that data was first available) onward.
Johnson began the research when she noticed she was hearing from friends and other sources about how many more younger women were being diagnosed with late-stage breast cancer.
Other studies should be done, she said, to verify what she has found.
Other cancer experts urged caution when interpreting the study results.
"It's an interesting finding and an important finding, but it has to be put into perspective," said Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society. The increasing trend of advanced breast cancer in younger women has been consistent over time, he noted.
He acknowledged that a diagnosis of advanced breast cancer at any age can be devastating. But experts need to continue to monitor the trend of advanced breast cancers in younger women, he added.
Dr. Courtney Vito, a staff surgeon of general oncologic surgery at the City of Ho
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