Background: It is believed that cancer of the breast is more difficult to diagnose in young women and it has long been disputed whether breast cancer occurring in women aged 40 years is more aggressive than that occurring later in life. A number of reports in the literature suggest that the disease is of similar aggressiveness in the young patients and older age groups, while other reports suggest that it is more aggressive and carries a higher mortality in young women.
Methods: To address these aspects of breast cancer we have undertaken a review of the cases treated at The Strathfield Breast Centre between 1989 and 1996 and compared the disease in the young and old groups with particular reference to the modes of diagnosis, the pathological staging and types of tumour and the outcomes of treatment.
Results: The accuracy of ultrasound and fine needle aspiration biopsy were similar in both groups, but the false negative rate of mammography in the young patients was 15% or 50% greater than that which was observed in the older patients. The incidence of histopathological type, bilaterality, size of lesion and receptor positivity were the same in both groups. In the young group, 40% had Grade 3 tumours compared with 27% in the older group. Nineteen per cent of young patients had 4 or more lymph nodes involved while only 10% of the older patients had similar lymph node involvement. Overall 5-year survival was 79% in the older patients compared with 90% in the young patients.
Conclusions: The spectrum of disease is similar in both the young and older patient and the prognosis is no worse for the young group but mammography is less effective in the diagnosis of the young patient.