Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Teenage Breast Cancer

Today at work, I came across a teenage girl, about sixteen years old, getting tested for BRCA genes (Breast Cancer genes, 1 and 2). She told me that she had actually had a lump biopsied and it had come back positive for breast cancer, and that she had to insist on the biopsy for the physician to perform it. Teenage breast cancer has been likened to winning the lottery - a condition almost unheard of without strong genetic predisposition and other relatives with early onset breast cancer. I can understand from a statistical and biological standpoint why a physician would not order a biopsy of every lump in a girl with developing breasts, but at the same time I would hate to misdiagnose breast cancer simply because I played the odds.

When I shadowed a breast cancer physician, we did actually see a teenage girl, probably 14 or 15, come in with a lump and he did a biopsy on a lump in her breast. A that age when the breast is developing, it is common for a duct in the breast to become blocked and form a temporary cyst, or for a benign tumor, a fibroadenoma, to form. He suspected she had a fibroadenoma. For the guys out there who don't know what those would feel like, they resemble grapes in the breast, and they generally go away as a girl gets used to hormones and the breasts develop. If I were a guy learning about feminine health, I would probably be very surprised at how much happens. I may be biased, but I think female development is a lot more complicated than male development, on account of girls having breasts, a uterus, and ovaries to worry about, instead of a single, localized sperm-delivery system. Also girls seem to have more hormones to regulate the reproductive system, whereas men mainly have testosterone.

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