Breast cancer diagnosis at 37, health advocate for life

By The Health News Team | December 15, 2023
Megan Liscomb of San Diego at Sharp Memorial Hospital

Megan Liscomb was 37 years old when she received a breast cancer diagnosis.

In February, Megan Liscomb, a senior editor for a media company, received a bilateral breast cancer diagnosis. She was only 37 years old.

The cancer, called invasive lobular carcinoma, is the second-most common type of breast cancer, making up 10% of cases. This type of breast cancer begins growing in the lobules — which produce milk in the breasts — and spreads to the surrounding breast tissue. Megan’s breast cancer was determined to be stage 2.

“Finding out was shocking,” she says. “I was just numb for a few days and didn't really process it.”

Identifying and treating her cancer

Megan noticed changes in her breasts several months before she received her diagnosis. Her left breast had a bulge instead of being round, and her breast was sunken in her bra cup. She also felt a thickened area in her breast.

“I tried not to get ahead of myself by thinking, ‘Oh, this is definitely cancer, for sure,’” says Megan. “But I couldn't shake the feeling that something was not OK.”

In addition to undergoing a mammogram and ultrasound, Megan received a same-day biopsy and felt scared as she waited for her results. But her anxiousness gradually dissipated when she discussed a treatment plan with Dr. Noran Barry, a Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group breast surgical oncology doctor affiliated with Sharp Memorial Hospital and Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women & Newborns.

In April, Megan underwent a bilateral mastectomy, which is the removal of both breasts, performed by Dr. Barry. Megan also worked with Dr. Ann Moeller, a Sharp Rees-Stealy oncologist, when receiving hormone therapy.

In Megan’s case, estrogen and progesterone can cause her tumor to grow. Therefore, she received both hormone medication and a monthly hormone injection to block the effects of estrogen and progesterone. She also received radiation therapy, which she finished in June.

“Losing my breasts was something I don't think anything could have prepared me for,” Megan says. “I just felt this deep sense in my gut that I didn't want to do any breast reconstruction surgeries.”

Megan consulted with a plastic surgeon and felt confident in her decision. She credits her partner Josh for helping her throughout her breast cancer journey.

“I’m thankful for Dr. Barry and the rest of my Sharp care team,” she says. “From our very first appointment, Dr. Barry made me feel seen, and I felt truly cared for. My care coordinators and nurse navigator helped me know what to expect, made all my appointments, and sometimes just let me cry on the phone.”

A troubling trend among young women

Megan has no family history of breast cancer, and her genetic tests showed she carried no genes linked to it. Although cases of young women (under age 40) developing breast cancer are still low overall, the number is growing a trend both Dr. Barry and Dr. Moeller say they have noticed.

There remains no clear reason behind this phenomenon, but Dr. Barry says profound life stressors can cause harmful changes in the body's cells. Researchers have suggested these changes may increase the risk of developing cancer.

This emphasizes the importance for all women to note any breast changes, receive screenings and meet with a doctor to discuss any concerns, Drs. Barry and Moeller say. Advocating for one’s health by seeking a second opinion, if necessary, is important as well.

“I'm so glad I noticed something was off with my breasts,” Megan says. “It's really scary to think about what could have happened to me if I didn't get the tests to find out what was really going on.”

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