President Nixon declared a "war on cancer" when he signed into law the 1971 National Cancer Act, investing federal dollars and man power into the lofty goal of finding a cure. More than four decades of research has had an impact. No longer a "death sentence," five-year survival rates for those diagnosed with cancer has gone up 33 percent, according to the American Cancer Society. Still, there are many unknowns in finding effective prevention and treatments, and a positive diagnosis remains a terrifying outcome for patients. 

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A study published in Cancer this January found that cancer survivors continue to suffer anxiety, frustration and symptoms similar to post-traumatic stress disorder years after they have ended treatment, reports Health Day. The author of the study, Mary Ann Burg, of the University of Central Florida in Orlando, commented, "In the wake of cancer, many survivors feel they have lost a sense of personal control, have reduced quality of life, and are frustrated that these problems are not sufficiently addressed within the medical care system." A diagnosis of cancer requires a multi-faceted treatment approach that addresses more than just survival, added Dr. Stephanie Bernik in response to the findings. 

For women, breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosis, and the second most common cancer leading to death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The American Cancer Society estimates that nearly 300,000 will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year alone. While the bulk of these diagnoses will happen in women over the age of 40, the type of breast cancer that is found in younger women tends to be more aggressive and have lower survival rates, notes the Young Survival Coalition.

The struggle to deal with a diagnosis is difficult for everyone, but there can be unique emotional challenges for younger women. Jennifer, sharing her experience on the YSC website, recalls being diagnosed only months after getting married. "We were supposed to be focusing on our careers and enjoying wedded bliss, not dealing with health problems. ... We thought our first difficult decision as a couple would be house shopping, but instead we were discussing types of breast surgery and fertility preservation." 

Breast cancer in younger women is also increasing in rates of diagnosis, found an analysis of medical records collected by the National Cancer Institute. Looking at records from 1976 to 2009, researchers found that the number of women between the ages of 25 to 39 being diagnosed with metastasized breast cancer is increasing by 2 percent per year, reports the American Cancer Society. Lead researcher Rebecca H. Johnson responded, "The message is young women can and do get breast cancer. Women need to be aware that breast cancer can happen in this young population and act promptly if they find a lump or have other symptoms."

Despite this, the numbers do not justify mammograms for women in this age group. Instead, regular self-examinations and exams every three years by a health-care professional are recommended. In 2013, the United States Preventive Services Task Force also recommended that women whose family histories meet certain risk factors ask about genetic testing for mutations in their BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, reports the National Cancer Institute. Both the test and genetic counseling are considered covered preventive services for high-risk individuals under the Affordable Care Act, though patients are encouraged to check with their individual insurance carriers. 

Johnson, however, believes that future research should look at more than just genetic factors. "I think the rapidity of the increase suggests possibly the change could be due to something toxic in the environment rather than a genetic cause."

Donna Jaynes would be inclined to agree.  The California mother of three lived an active and healthy lifestyle. She exercised regularly and kept in touch with family and friends -- usually using a hands-free device while her cellphone was tucked into the right side of her bra. It was only when she noticed an unusual "pulsing" over her right breast in 2009 that her husband urged her to make an appointment with an obstetrician, reports the Environmental Health Trust.

Young and with no family history of cancer, Jaynes never suspected that she would be diagnosed with breast cancer. When genetic testing revealed no obvious causes, her doctor, Robert Nagourney, finally determined that the only remaining association with the locations of her tumors and her lifestyle was her habit of carrying her cellphone in her brassiere. Dr. John West also came to the same conclusions. "If there's even a small possibility that (cellphones) could even remotely influence the behavior, biology and possible carcinogenicity in this setting, I would urge people to avoid exposure," Nagourney said in an interview for the film "Disconnect: The Truth About Cell Phones & Cancer" (2014).

In response to increasing concerns, there have been laboratory tests examining the effects of cellphone radio frequency (RF) waves on DNA and whether RF waves contribute to tumor growth in conjunction with other known carcinogens. While studies are ongoing, the Cancer Society reports that these studies do not support the theory that cellphones cause cancer. Studies conducted on humans have had similar results. Save for a series of studies done by one Swedish research group, no other studies have found any correlation between cellphone usage and likelihood of brain tumors. The Cancer Society, however, admits that these studies have been limited in scope and reliant upon participant memories of cellphone usage, and notes the need for additional research. 

The same can be said of the many "toxins" that are used in everyday household products. While consumer concerns about aluminum, parabens and new plastics do not go unheeded, limitations in the research and testing process make hard conclusions difficult to draw. "When the evidence is conclusive, the substance is labeled as a carcinogen. When the available evidence is compelling but not felt to be conclusive, the substance may be considered to be a probable carcinogen. But in some cases there simply isn't enough information to be certain one way or the other," states the American Cancer Society.

The lack of clarity is frustrating. People whose lives have been affected by cancer hope for a clear answer to the "why" and "how" of their situation. Those who have not been affected want to know how to avoid it. If there is a certainty to take away from Jaynes' story, it's that no one is risk free. In conjunction with staying away from or minimizing exposure to known carcinogens (tobacco, alcohol), the World Health Organization notes the importance of early detection through public education of warning signs and regular screenings with a doctor. 

Jennifer, despite the difficult start to her newlywed life, now proudly talks of celebrating anniversaries. Her early career setbacks while undergoing treatment are now a thing of the past. Still, finding a community of other survivors was critical in her healing process. "I could not have gotten through my breast cancer experience without the support of the young women I met through the YSC Online Community. It was my lifeline throughout treatment and beyond. ... If you are a young woman facing breast cancer, please know that you are not alone!"