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Talking to Your Daughter About Her Risk for Breast Cancer

Talking to Your Daughter About Her Risk for Breast Cancer

You know how media exposure to upsetting topics affects your own emotions. Now imagine you’re a girl who’s just getting used to her body’s changes, and you read or hear multiple stories about breast cancer. Wouldn’t you be scared?

Breast cancer awareness has helped decrease fatalities from breast cancer, because more women get regular mammograms. Unfortunately, another consequence of increased awareness of breast cancer is that young girls and teens may be afraid they have it or will get it soon.

At Elite Gynecology, our expert gynecologists, Molly McBride, MD, and Tamara Guichard, MD, encourage you to speak to your daughter about breast cancer. The more she knows — and the more you know about what she knows — the sooner she can relax about her own risk.

Your daughter may be embarrassed

It’s normal for teenagers to be embarrassed to talk with their parents about sensitive issues, particularly those involving their bodies. If you bring up the subject and your daughter doesn’t want to talk about it, you can encourage her to visit this page, which is addressed specifically to teenage girls. 

You can also ask us to talk to your daughter about breast cancer risk during her annual exam. Sometimes it’s easier to talk to a doctor than a parent. 

Assure her that young women aren’t at risk

Most women who are diagnosed with breast cancer are more than 50 years old. But in one survey, almost a third of girls aged 8-18 thought that they already had breast cancer. Let your daughter know that it’s not true that you can get breast cancer from:

Also reassure her that she can’t “catch” breast cancer from somebody else. The main causes of breast cancer are aging and, in some cases, genetics. Nevertheless, encourage your daughter to avoid habits that could affect her health and may slightly increase risk, such as cigarette smoking and drinking alcohol.

Let her know that her breasts are normal

Some of the anxiety your daughter has about breast cancer may be related to her lack of familiarity with what normal breasts look and feel like. Our culture doesn’t provide girls much accurate, healthy information about their breasts, and your daughter may erroneously think there’s something “wrong” with them. 

Some girls may worry because they read about breast cancer symptoms and then think that they have them. For instance, it’s normal for breasts to feel achy and sore as they develop. But your daughter may mistake that pain for disease. 

Girls can also be perturbed by the way their breasts feel. They may notice changes in texture that they think are the lumps of a tumor. Instead, they’re probably normal parts of their anatomy. Usually, if you feel the same structure on both sides of your body, it’s supposed to be there!

Girls may also have cystic breasts, which makes them feel lumpy and rough under the skin. That’s also a normal variation. We can teach your daughter how to properly conduct a self-exam, so she can feel for herself the texture of her healthy breasts and detect possible changes.

Tell her about mammograms 

You can assure your daughter that when she gets older, she’ll go for annual mammograms as part of breast-cancer screening. Once a woman turns 45 (or younger if she’s in a high-risk group) getting an annual mammogram improves her chances of early detection, early treatment, and survival. 

Women who get mammograms every year have a 41% reduction in their risk for dying from breast cancer in the next 10 years. Those who regularly undergo mammograms also have a 25% reduced risk for advanced breast cancer. Missing even one annual exam, however, significantly increases their risk for a poor outcome.

Genes aren’t destiny

If you or someone else in your family has had breast cancer or tests positive for the BCRA mutations associated with breast cancer, your daughter may fear that she’ll get breast cancer, too. You may worry that discussing the fact that she could be at increased risk will distress her.

However, studies have shown that children who know about their mothers’ BCRA+ status aren’t more worried about cancer than those who don’t, or than those whose mothers are BCRA-. In fact, knowledge helps them cope with the increased risk that affects their loved ones, and maybe even them.

If your daughter is worried about breast cancer and wants to learn how to do a self-exam, contact our team at the office nearest you — in Murray Hill (Midtown East) in Manhattan, New York City, or in Forest Hills, New York. You can phone us or click the button to request an appointment.

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