Personal Health Issues for Teens
Teen Column - Nov. 2007
By Joyce Heid
An essential part of growing up is accepting increasing responsibility. For
teenagers, this may include more chores around the house or a part-time job.
There is another area often overlooked. Teens should also be learning about
managing their health. In addition, Dr. Charles Shubin, director of Pediatrics
for Mercy FamilyCare, a division of Family Health Centers of Baltimore,
encourages parents to use this time to open a dialogue about breast cancer with
their daughters and testicular cancer with their sons.
“Practically, mid-puberty is the time the kids are aware of their sexual
development enough so they are receptive to paying attention to these areas,”
says Shubin. “As the risks for cancer in these areas are quite low, but other
risks related to sexual development are quite high, I want parents to talk to
their kids about all aspects of their
physical and behavioral development, self exams [for early detection of these
diseases] being a part of that discussion.”
About Breast Care
The American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates one in eight women will
be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in her lifetime. While the possibility
of a teenager developing breast cancer is small, teaching good breast health
habits at this age sets the stage for good breast health habits for the rest of
a young woman’s life.
Your daughter’s healthcare provider should begin performing yearly clinical
breast exams when she’s in high school. At that time, the physician should
teach your daughter how to do a breast self exam (BSE) and explain what lumps
are a normal part of growth and development and what lumps need to be evaluated
by a physician.
A perfect time to do the first breast self exam is just after her physician has
examined her. That way your daughter knows any lumps she may feel at that time
are just normal glands. After that, a BSE should be done at the same time each
month, after the end of her menstrual cycle.
Most of the time, when a young woman does find a lump, it is a normal change in
breast tissue and just part of hormonal changes. If the lump remains for more
than a week, if it becomes hot or inflamed, or if there is any discharge, she
should see her physician.
The doctor may order an ultrasound to diagnose the cause of the lump.
Ultrasound is preferred over mammograms for young women because their breast
tissue is so dense.
About Testicular Care
Boys may not have to do breast self exams,
but puberty has not left them off the hook completely. According to the
National Cancer Institute, testicular cancer is the most common form of cancer
in men between the ages of 15 and 34.
Learning how to do a proper testicular self exam (TSE) once a month gives the
best chance for survival if a lump or bump turns out to be cancer. Testicular
cancer is almost always curable if it is caught and treated early.
Young men should learn how to do a testicular self exam at their yearly
physical exam. The best time to do a TSE is after a hot bath or shower when the
scrotum is most relaxed. Also, they should know that it is normal for one
testicle to be larger than the other.
Early symptoms of testicular cancer many include a lump, swelling, or
enlargement in the testicle, change in color of a testicle, pain or discomfort
in a testicle or in the scrotum, or an ache in the lower abdomen, back, or
These symptoms may also indicate other problems, such as a hernia or varicocele
(dilation of the veins that drain the testicles). If your son develops any of
these signs, he should see his physician to determine the cause.
Starting a Dialogue
Talking to your teen about these topics
can be a stepping stone to addressing other aspects of entering adulthood.
Shubin says that when he speaks with his patients, he emphasizes to
pubertal/adolescent children that they are responsible for themselves, whether
that be how they do in school, how they behave—sexually or by using
tobacco, drugs, or alcohol—or how they care for their bodies—in
terms of nutrition, hygiene, and physical risks.
Sure, talking to your teen about these topics is not always easy. But it
certainly is time well spent.
As Shubin describes, “Against this is the typical adolescent perception of
invincibility, so to them there is no reason to be concerned as ‘it won't
happen to them!’ However, it is essential that young men and women learn self
exams are an essential part of protecting their health.” BC
For more information about breast cancer
and breast self exams, log onto www.breastcancer.org. Or, go to the Susan G.
Komen Breast Cancer Foundation website, at www.komen.org.
For more information about testicular cancer, visit
www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/sites-types/testicular. Or, visit the
Testicular Cancer Research Center website, at tcrc.acor.org
©Baltimore's Child Inc. November 2007