Dear Sister: A Message to our Teenage Readers

PJ Hamel Health Guide August 21, 2009
  • I don’t know you, and you don’t know me. But I feel comfortable calling you sister, because all of us women – young, old, or in-between, all over the world – are sisters, bound by genetics and our female souls.

    If you’re reading these words, I assume it’s because you came to this site wanting to know something about breast cancer. And if that’s the case, I’ll also jump to the conclusion that you’re afraid you may have breast cancer. Or you’re afraid for someone else. Or you’re doing a science project… but I have to believe the main reason you’re here is that something odd is happening with your breast(s), and you’re worried about what it might be.


    You’re afraid to even think it… but you’re worried you might have breast cancer.

    OK, take a deep breath, and let it out slowly. That’s the first step towards relaxation. And the next? Read this:

    Your chance of getting breast cancer, as an American teenager, is less than 1 in 1,000,000.

     

    That’s right. According to a paper published in the “Journal of Surgical Research” last year, your chance of getting breast cancer under the age of 20 is less than one in a million.

    And if you’re a bit older — say, 22 or 23 — the American Cancer Society says your chance of getting breast cancer is just about 1 in 100,000.

     

    To put it another way, and using slightly different data, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the country's leading breast cancer treatment and cure advocacy group, pegs your chance of having breast cancer in your 20s at .000006%. That translates to 1,000 20-somethings a year being diagnosed with breast cancer – out of a total population of over 154 million American women.

     

    Even when you’re a young adult, your risk doesn’t increase that much. 95% of all new breast cancer diagnoses come in women OVER the age of 40.

    So breast cancer under age 40? Very rare indeed. Only about 10,000 American women under the age of 40 will get breast cancer this year. Out of that population of over 150 million.

    Feeling better?

    So if your breasts are sore after you’ve been fooling around with your boyfriend… Or your breast is vibrating (and you don’t think it’s because you carry your cell phone in your bra)... Or both your breasts are full of lumps, and you’re worried because, after all, everyone says that a lump in your breast means cancer…

    Be realistic. Are you that one teenager in a million who has breast cancer?

     

    If someone said you had a 1 in 1,000,000 chance of winning PowerBall, would you book the next flight to Hawaii?

    Case closed.

    Well… not quite. Being aware of changes in your breast is a great habit to develop. As you get older, it’s your best protection against breast cancer. Knowing what your breasts feel like normally; being aware enough to notice a lump, an area of thickness, or a change in appearance; and then reporting it to your doctor is what we call “best practice.” It’s just smart.


  • So if you notice a change in your breast now, as a teenager, please read our Teen Guide to Breast Development. This post will give you the information you need to assess whether or not you should call the doctor.


    And finally, when in doubt about any kind of breast change, please confide in an adult. If you’re young, tell your mom or the school nurse. If you’re older, see a doctor. You’re not being silly, or a hypochondriac, or wasting anyone’s time.

    You’re being responsible for your health. Which is a great habit to develop.