For Your Health
10-year-old Girl Battles Breast Cancer
What moms need to know
-Lissa Rankin, M.D., Betty’s OB/GYN on Call
The tragic story of the 10-year-old girl with breast cancer is enough to freak out any mother (and their daughters). But the truth is that her story is exceedingly rare.
The unusual type of breast cancer Hannah Powell-Auslam had is called secretory carcinoma, a rare subtype of infiltrating ductal carcinoma of the breast, but with a better prognosis. Few cases of this slow-growing cancer have ever been reported, and the five-year survival rate in young people is exceptionally good – approaching 100 percent after surgery. But does that make it any less concerning to us Moms? Maybe not.
So what can we do to protect our children? First, we need to teach them when they’re very young to learn to know their bodies. By teaching them about their bodies, we give them necessary permission to know and accept the skin they live in, but we also help them learn what’s normal. Invite your children to explore their body parts, including their breasts, so they can alert you, should they notice lumps and bumps that didn’t used to be there.
Hannah knew about her lump for months before she told her mother. She thought it was just part of growing up – a reasonable assumption. Many 10-year-olds do develop breast lumps as their breasts begin to form. I remember that, when I was 12, I felt a lump under my nipple and freaked out because I thought a roach had crawled under my skin. My physician father was able to examine me and assure me that they were just “breast buds,” but boy, was I mortified! At least I alerted my parents and got it checked. Give your children permission to explore, and make sure they feel comfortable coming to you if they find something different.
As for whether more and more young people will get breast cancer, I don’t know. A lot of research is ongoing, looking into environmental estrogens (xenoestrogens), which are chemicals with hormonal activity. These chemicals, which include pesticides, food dyes, plasticizers and many others, act like estrogen and appear to affect the genetic makeup of fetuses in utero. Not to get too technical on you, but these xenoestrogens act as endocrine disruptors and may increase the rates of diseases that are related to estrogen, such as fibroids, endometriosis and maybe breast cancer. So will more and more people get breast cancer? I can’t say. But we all need to keep these xenoestrogens in mind in order to protect our children and future generations. I could go on about how we need to protect Mama Earth, but then, that’s a whole other topic (and you don’t want me to get on my soapbox!).
I know Hannah was awfully young – and I don’t think your 6-year-olds need to do breast exams, but once your daughter hits puberty, teach her about her body. If you don’t feel comfortable, take her to her pediatrician or to a gynecologist, who has lots of experience with teens. Personally, I love having the opportunity to teach young woman about preventative health. No need to teach fear, but you can’t start too early to teach a girl to love her body. It’s all part of Owning Pink.