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Young women get breast cancer, too

Though the incidence of breast cancer in teenage girls is small, it is never too early to teach your young daughter about breast health and breast cancer prevention, especially if you have a family history of the disease. Here are some helpful tips on how to talk to your daughter about breast health.

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Teach by example

Your daughter looks to you for guidance — even if she would never admit it — and if she sees you taking care of your breasts, it will encourage her to take of hers. Making breast cancer a comfortable topic of conversation can also raise your daughter’s awareness and curiosity to learn more.

“Moms can teach by demonstration: They can model an overall healthy lifestyle, control their weight, exercise, and limit alcohol intake,” says Susan Brown, MS, RN, director of health education for Susan G Komen for the Cure. “They can talk about breast cancer if it has occurred in a family member or a friend. They can talk about getting mammograms when they get their own mammograms. They can talk about the importance of being aware of changes in their bodies.”

Raise awareness without raising fear

The way you approach your daughter about breast cancer will influence her thoughts and feelings about the disease. You certainly don’t want to bring up breast cancer in a way that keeps your daughter up at night worrying that she has it, particularly given that teen girls rarely get breast cancer.

According to Brown, the incidence of breast cancer in teen girls is so small — just a few cases a year — that it isn’t often reported in the national statistics. The breast health expert suggests sensibly talking about breast cancer to make it less frightening and to empower your daughter to be proactive about her breast health.

Encourage your daughter to know her breasts

Breast awareness is a key in preventing breast cancer as well as catching it early enough for successful treatment. Your daughter should get to know her breasts now and be aware of the natural changes that will occur as she matures.

“As young girls go through puberty, their breasts undergo changes as they develop into the mature system of ducts and lobes,” says Brown. Young breasts have a greater proportion of breast tissue compared to fat, making them feel very dense. As your daughter gets older, her breasts will soften and feel looser, especially during and after pregnancy.

Brown says your daughter should expect breast changes throughout her teen years and into young adulthood, and to be aware of any changes that don’t affect both breasts. “Teens should expect their breasts to become tender, swollen and lumpy prior to their periods,” she explains. “[However], like women of all ages, if a change is noted in one breast and not the other that persists, she should seek the advice of a healthcare provider.” Asymmetrical changes can indicate breast cancer or other breast health issues.

Quick guide to teen breast health

Brown recommends the following checklist for teaching your daughter about breast health:

  • Educate your daughter about breast cancer but reassure her that it rarely occurs in teens.
  • Encourage your daughter to be aware of her breasts and to let you know if there is a persistent change in her breasts that is asymmetrical or just doesn’t feel right.
  • Let your daughter’s doctor know if you have a family history of breast cancer, and discuss risk factors and prevention with your daughter.
  • Teach your daughter about making healthful lifestyle choices that will reduce the risk of breast cancer.
  • Encourage her to learn more about breast cancer so it will seem less frightening and give her the ability to help support friends or family who have the disease.

Steer your daughter toward books and quality websites that provide accurate information on breast health and breast cancer prevention strategies such as regular doctor visits, breast self exams and risk factor reduction.

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