The statistics for this dreaded disease can be frightening. The average woman, reports the Memorial Sloane-Kettering Cancer Center, has a one in seven chance of developing breast cancer at some point during her life.
Know your Daughter’s Risk Level
Depending on your family history and risk level, a physician may recommend diagnostic screening as early as age 20. Guidelines for these screenings are established based on genetic or familial predisposition to cancer, according to Memorial Sloan-Kettering investigators, with different guidelines for women depending on their level of risk.
Clinical Examinations & Mammograms
Average-risk women, according to Memorial Sloan-Kettering guidelines, have no symptoms, no suggestion or evidence of hereditary syndrome, have not had radiation treatment for Hodgkin disease, and have no history of invasive breast cancer or family history of a parent or sibling having breast cancer. It is recommended that women in this category receive clinical examinations (examination by a health professional) beginning at age 25 with mammograms beginning at age 40.
If, however, a woman has a family history (parent or sibling who has had breast cancer), some forms of benign breast disease, or she has been treated with mantle radiation to combat Hodgkin disease before the age of 32, she is considered to be at above-average risk for developing breast cancer. For this age group, clinical examinations and mammography are recommended starting no later than 10 years before the age of the earliest family diagnosis.
This means beginning clinical exams for a girl as early as her teenage years if a parent or older sibling has been diagnosed. These clinical exams should be conducted regularly — every three to six months, explains Memorial Sloan-Kettering, and mammograms should be performed annually, although not before age 25.
If there is a history of breast cancer in your family, your physician may discuss your options for genetic testing. Cancers involve mutated genes that usually happen randomly, according to the Department for Public Health of the state Connecticut, although some of these mutations are inherited and can be screened for. These gene mutations can come from either parent, and having the gene does not mean a person will develop breast cancer, but it does mean the risk is greater.
If your family has a history of breast cancer, is genetic testing the right option for your young daughter? It depends, experts explain.
Dr. Jeffrey Weitzel, director of the department of clinical cancer genetics at the City of Hope Cancer Center in Duarte, Calif., told an ABC News reporter that, “Although a negative test result could provide some relief for older children and teens, there is also a 50 percent chance that they could be identified as a carrier of the genes––a weighty revelation for any girl or young woman.”
“At a time when choosing a prom dress can be high drama, the intrusion of fear about mortality may defuse joy, at best, and possibly cause emotional harm,” Weitzel said, adding, “This could also alter a teen girl’s perspective about body image and her emerging womanhood.”
Detection & Prevention
How can you help your daughter protect herself? You can begin by partnering with your family doctor to discuss family history and the best age to begin screening.
Your physician will also arm your daughter with information about self-examination and what to look for. While breast cancer is rare in teens, helping your daughter develop the habit of examining herself while in middle and high school will empower her to better recognize anything unusual later.
Prevention is another way you can help your daughter protect herself. Encourage her to establish healthy lifestyle habits that include avoiding smoking and a fatty diet, as well as getting regular physical activity.
He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be cured of your disease” —Mark 5:34