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Puberty at 8? Girls’ precocious puberty puts them at higher risk of cancer

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Girls in the United States reach puberty very early, which increases their risk for breast cancer, social and emotional problems.

While the biological signs of female puberty – menstruation, breast development, and pubic and armpit hair growth – typically manifested around the age of 13 or older just a few decades ago, today girls as early as the age of 8 more and more show these signs.

African American girls are particularly vulnerable to precocious puberty.

Besides the social and emotional implications, precocious puberty exposes girls to more estrogen, which increases their risk of breast cancer as the disease thrives on estrogen.

According to biologist Sandra Steingraber, the author of the report titled “The Falling Age of Puberty in American Girls: What We Know, What We Need to Know,” “the data indicates that if you have your first period before the age of 12, your risk of breast cancer is 50 percent higher than if you get it at 16. “

“Every year we could delay a girl’s first period,” she says, “we could prevent thousands of breast cancers”.

The theories behind the tendency to precocious puberty abound, but the actual causes are not known. Potential causes noted in the document include:

  • Increased rates of childhood obesity and inactivity
  • Infant bottle
  • Excessive television viewing and media use
  • Family stress
  • Exposure to environmental chemicals

Precocious puberty is probably an “ecological disorder,” according to Steingraber, which is caused by a number of environmental factors.

The Breast Cancer Fund, “The Falling Age of Puberty in American Girls: What We Know, What We Need to Know”


Chicago Tribune September 16, 2007


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