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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 groin.
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

Resources Online
For more information about breast cancer and breast self exams, log onto Or, go to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation website, at
For more information about testicular cancer, visit Or, visit the Testicular Cancer Research Center website, at

©Baltimore’s Child Inc. November 2007

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