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Breast Cancer Health Center

Having the Talk -- About Breasts, That Is

Young Girls Want Their Moms to Talk to Them About Breast Health, Breast Cancer
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Dec. 15, 2009 (San Antonio) -- Attention, moms! Your young daughters want to know more about normal breast development and breast cancer -- and they'd like to hear it from you.

A survey of more than 3,000 girls aged 8-18 suggests their breast development and breast cancer are "a big source of anxiety," says Marisa Weiss, MD, president and founder of Breastcancer.org.

Nearly half wanted to participate in an assembly with their mothers to learn more about these topics, but 50% also indicated they were uneasy bringing up breast health and breast cancer with their mothers, the survey shows.

Nearly all of the mothers said they'd like to answer their daughter's questions, the survey shows, but most thought they should wait for their daughter to ask.

Don't, Weiss urges. It's up to moms to start the dialogue, she says.

1 in 4 Young Girls Worries She Has Breast Cancer

The findings build on a 2008 Breastcancer.org online survey showing that 26% of girls worry they may have breast cancer and 73% have a relative or close acquaintance with the disease.

"Puberty is occurring at younger and younger ages, with breast development starting at age 7, 8, 9. The changes are happening so fast that many young girls don't know what's happening to them and if it's normal," Weiss tells WebMD.

Add to that the fact that most people know someone who has had breast cancer and you have a recipe for anxiety, she says.

"Girls are examining their breasts anyway, and they don’t know if each change is normal [or if it could signal cancer]," Weiss says. "They can't distinguish between what's relevant and what's not."

Among the topics that should be discussed, Weiss says, are normal breast development, nipple hair, breast size, how to wear a bra, and how to handle teasing.

The girls and their moms offered many tips on how to start and maintain a healthy dialogue on these topics, Weiss says.

"Don't be overly reassuring," she tells moms. "Answer each question truthfully and ask your doctor if you don't know."

Also she suggests "making it fun. Take a trip to the mall to buy your daughter a bra and talk in the car on the way there and back," she says.

Other tips: Be open, chose a private place and time, and share experiences, Weiss says.

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