March 13th, 2012
Cause for Concern: Heart Disease and Breast Cancer in Young Women
Aakriti Gupta, MD
For ages, myocardial infarction (MI) has been dismissed as an ‘old man’s disease’. However, not only is it one of the leading causes of mortality in old women, it also afflicts a sizeable proportion of young women. Data from the American Heart Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest that more than 10,000 women under 45 years of age are diagnosed with a heart attack and nearly 700 die annually in United States, a number that closely parallels the 19,000 women newly diagnosed with malignant breast cancer in the same age group. In fact, data from the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project, one of the largest collections of hospital inpatient care statistics, showed that nearly 20,000 women under 50 years of age are hospitalized with MI in the US every year.
Each October America turns pink with the arrival of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The campaign’s signature pink ribbons are ubiquitous. This stands in stark contrast with the awareness of MI in young women. If we are to fight this disease, myocardial infarction in young women will need to receive the same attention and concern as breast cancer. The ‘Go Red for Women’ initiative by the AHA is a first step in the right direction. We need to support this movement so that concerted efforts are undertaken toward checking a disease as common and daunting as breast cancer.
I agree wholeheartedly. As the “baby boom” generation ages, there will be many more young and middle aged women afflicted with cardiovascular disease. There should be as much emphasis placed on this killer as is placed on breast cancer. It seems “February is Women’s Heart Month” never achieved the status of the pink ribbon or the “boobie” bracelets. We need a new approach to educate women and especially their doctors about the number one killer of women. Possibly women perceive heart disease as a fast painless death, while cancer is seen as slow and agonizing. The truth is, slow death by CVD is just as painful as a slow death due to cancer. I know this because my own mother died choking on her pink pulmonary edema froth at the “ripe old age” of 66.
I am not trying to take away from breast cancer victims; on the contrary I would like to eradicate that disease also. There is a very widespread misconception about the true incidence and prevalence of CVD among cardiologists, generalists, and the lay public. The thought is so ingrained that 8 out of 10 people will tell you breast cancer is the highest killer of women in the United States. I implore the AHA and ACC to correct this misbelief.