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News / Health / Breast Cancer

Young women who suspect breast cancer face challenges

By Anna Mattson for The Columbian
Published: October 9, 2022, 5:30am

According to Yale Medicine, breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in women ages 15-39. Every year, more than 1,000 women under age 40 die from breast cancer. But screenings aren’t recommended or typically offered until over the age of 40, leaving younger people like Sonja Trytko to advocate for themselves when they suspect something is amiss.

In 2010, when she was living in New York City, Trytko felt a lump in her breast but didn’t have insurance. She visited a free clinic in New York, where the doctor wrote her an order for a mammogram at a nearby hospital that offered them for free.

When Trytko went to get tested, however, the technician refused to do the mammogram because she was “too young.”

“I was extremely upset,” Trytko recalled. “I had a full-on Karen moment and called the clinic manager, who then brought me back in. But they still refused to do the mammogram.”

Instead, she underwent an ultrasound, which found nothing of concern. A year later, when she finally did get a mammogram, it revealed calcifications that indicated breast cancer. Trytko said although it was frustrating, she doesn’t feel resentful.

“I don’t have time for resentment in my life at this point,” she said. “However, seeing those holes in care indicate a bigger problem with our health care system.”

Dr. Natallia Suvorava, a medical oncologist with Vancouver Clinic not involved with Trytko’s care, said mammograms can be less effective at detecting breast cancer in younger patients because their breast tissue tends to be denser than in older patients (see related story on Page 14). That doesn’t mean young patients with symptoms shouldn’t be taken seriously and tested, whether by mammogram or ultrasound.

“It’s not like one is better than another. They work well together,” Suvorava said. “We should not dismiss patient symptom concerns.”

Trytko said she’s lucky to have found an oncologist she liked in New York, and then in Portland after she moved.

She said it’s important to get a second opinion, and to find medical professionals who are supportive, informative and understanding.

“What I have learned about the health care system is that you have to be your own advocate,” Trytko said. “If you just let the process take its own course, it could be fine, but it also could not be fine.”