Our Young Girl’s Increasing Risk for Breast Cancer

Two well known risk factors for breast cancer have come in to play in a study released today: obesity and a greater number of menses over a lifetime. Now, a shocking new study out of Denmark notes that in less than 20 years, the age of menarche (first period or puberty) for young girls has gone down a FULL YEAR.

To give some perspective to this, in the 19th century, girls reached puberty at the age of 15 to 17 years of age, depending upon country of origin. In the 1960’s, the internationally stated age of puberty was set at 12. Now, these new statistics (which appear to be matched in the U.S.) reveal an average age of puberty of less than 9 years old. It is not only the lower age of puberty that is of concern. The rapidity with which this change has occurred is equally concerning.

Scientists are speculating that two causes may be at play. The first: children are more obese than they used to be causing their bodies to make more estrogen. This could result in earlier menses. The second factor: chemicals in our environment called estrogen disruptors may also play a part in this shocking development. These chemicals are found in our food supply, our water and even in the tools with which we eat and drink.

Concerns about health problems related to earlier menses, such as cancer and the associated obesity with its complications are certainly prevalent. Hitting puberty results in a longer lifetime exposure to estrogen which is a factor in breast cancer and heart disease. In addition, socially these younger girls have to face unprecedented sexual pressure. Now they have bodies that are mature before they are emotionally prepared to deal with these issues.

Ten years ago there was debate whether some of the health changes that are rapidly appearing, such as autism, obesity, MS and premature menarche, were due to better collection of data. The data we are receiving now is collected in a modern time. These are real changes and real numbers.

My rumination on this topic would be that hundreds to thousands of years used to be required for such a dramatic change in human physiology. Now, over less than 20 years, this change has been documented. We are left with the question, “What is happening to the health of our children and our citizens?” Now, that’s a question we should get to work on!!