MALDEN, MO (KFVS) -
Turning 40 is a milestone for many.
For women though, it is also time to schedule that important mammogram.
"The risk is higher as you cross 30 and 40," Dr. Olivia Aranha said, an oncologist at Saint Francis Medical Center.
In Ashley Smith's case breast cancer came early.
She became an anomaly when she was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 23.
Smith had been showing signs of the disease since she was 21, but thought they were related to childbirth.
"I had no idea what to expect," Smith said. " I didn't expect cancer."
Dr. Aranha said that is typically the case in younger woman.
"These women are too busy with their day to day lives," Aranha said. "They don't pay attention to a bloody nipple discharge or a lump, because you don't expect it in young women."
Smith remembers the day she was diagnosed like it was yesterday.
"I was shocked, disbelief mostly, sadness, anger, you feel so many emotions," Smith said.
During her double mastectomy doctors realized cancer had spread to her lymph nodes.
Smith said looking back, the hardest part of the whole ordeal was losing her breasts.
"You're losing something that most people think makes you a woman," Smith said. "Me being 23 at the time, that was really a big deal... I wanted to wear certain shirts or a dress and you're just flat where you used to not be flat."
It has been four years and Smith is cancer free.
She said she is at peace with her decision and how she looks.
At 23, it wasn't a battle she was prepared to fight, but she won.
"Every day I get to spend with my kids," Smith said. "I get to see them grow up and had I not found out when I did, I may not be here. I appreciate every day with them."
Dr. Aranha encourages women even in their late twenties to do monthly self-breast exams, and to adopt a healthy lifestyle that includes exercise, eating right, and not smoking.
She also reminds women that no one knows your body like you do.
If something changes or doesn't look right, Dr. Aranha encourages women to seek medical attention immediately.