Buddy Check 7: A young woman's call to action
There are different opinions in the medical world on when and if at all women should conduct self-breast exams. The American Cancer Society says there's little evidence that the screening actually helps find cancer any earlier.
NewsChannel 7 spoke with 26-year-old Shyra Martyn from Athens about her own journey through cancer and her message for young women.
In December of 2016, Martyn was diagnosed with stage three invasive lobular breast cancer after a self-breast exam. "I woke up after a week of starting work on a Saturday with pain and I found about a golf ball size lump. I went and going in to be seen hoping it was just an infection but they ruled that out right away and set me up with my primary at a specialist and I got my diagnosis." Invasive cancer means the cancer cells have broken out of the lobule where they began and have the potential to spread to the lymph nodes and other areas of the body.
The American Cancer Society recommends that women with average risk start screening with a mammogram every year at the age of 40. Martyn’s two grandmother’s had both been diagnosed with breast cancer later in life. So she went through BRCA gene testing and tested negative. She said the results after her diagnoses were shocking, “So mine (cancer) was a complete shock. Even my doctors can't explain it. The genetics came back negative for all of the bracket genes." The BRCA gene test is a blood test that uses DNA analysis to identify harmful mutations in breast cancer susceptibility genes.
Martyn is in the five percent of women who are diagnosed with cancer under the age of 40. At 26-years-old she is now undergoing chemotherapy. Balancing three children under the age of 6. She said treatments haven’t been easy but that her community has been supportive, “We are hopeful and then we have a lot of support family friends in the town we live in has been great. So I am just ready to move forward and start getting radiation done so I can continue with schooling and get back to work.”
According to Susan G. Komen, because of the common misconception of cancer and age, delayed diagnosis of breast cancer in young women is a problem. It can also be difficult to diagnose. Young women’s breast tissue is often more dense than breast tissue of older women. So, by the time a lump can be felt in a young woman, it may be large and advanced enough to lower her chances of survival.
After chemo and radiation Martyn will undergo a double mastectomy. It is surgery she says that could’ve been avoided if she had done a self-breast exam earlier and recommends that women regardless of age do at least once a month. “Age isn't necessarily a factor anymore and it's super important to be proactive and trust your instincts and do it yourself. So another words I wish I would've done it because then I could've said I caught it as soon as I could and I can't say that and it hurts. I can't say it," said Martyn.
The American Cancer Society has chosen to advise women that breast self-exam is an "optional" screening tool. However, organizations like Breastcancer.org and Mayo Clinic say they recognize a woman's value in a women being familiar with their own breasts and recommend women do self-exams and promptly report changes to physicians.