Postpartum cancers carry higher risks for young women

Holly Steinbeck, who discovered she had breast cancer after the birth of her third child, is participating in a study of postpartum cancers through the University of Colorado Cancer Center at the Anschutz Medical Campus. (Cyrus McCrimmon, The Denver Post)

Holly Steinbeck, who discovered she had breast cancer after the birth of her third child, is participating in a study of postpartum cancers through the University of Colorado Cancer Center at the Anschutz Medical Campus. (Cyrus McCrimmon, The Denver Post)

Soon after Holly Steinbeck gave birth to her first child six years ago, she noticed that one of her breasts was unusually painful.

“I didn’t think anything of it,” Steinbeck says. “It was my first time, and I figured, aren’t you supposed to be sore?”

When the pain came back after her second child was born two years later, it gave her pause, but again, she imagined it was “just the way it goes.”

When her third baby was born in February, the soreness returned, and this time, it came with lumpy areas.

“The first time, it was sort of like mastitis, a cyclical or burning pain,” the Highlands Ranch resident says. “This time, I thought it was a clogged duct. I got some cream, put it on it, and the doc said, ‘I’ll see you back in a couple of months.’ ”

By July, Steinbeck had been diagnosed with Stage 2b breast cancer, two days before her 30th birthday.

“With no family history, and I’m so young, it just wasn’t alarming to anyone,” Steinbeck says. “I don’t know what would have happened, when I would have realized.”

She calls her third child “angel baby.” Steinbeck says, “One of my doctors has even said, ‘That baby probably saved your life.’ ”

According to the American Cancer Society, more than 232,340 women are diagnosed with invasive breast cancer annually. Of those, about 27,000 are women 45 and under, or about 12 percent, and approximately half of those women are postpartum, defined as being within five years of having given birth.

Virginia Borges wants to know why.

As an oncologist and the director of the Young Women’s Breast Cancer Translational Program at the University of Colorado Cancer Center, Borges’ self-stated goal is “better outcomes” for young women who are at a higher risk for what are often more aggressive tumors.

In addition, women diagnosed with breast cancer within five years of giving birth are three times more likely to experience a recurrence than those who are outside the postpartum window.

“Losing anyone to cancer is a terrible thing,” Borges says. “Losing a young mom to breast cancer has terrible ramifications on that family.”

Read the rest of this story by Kyle Wagner on The Denver Post.

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