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Articles on Breast Health

Puberty at 8? Earlier Puberty Puts Girls at Higher Risk for Cancer

Girls in the United States are reaching puberty at very early ages, increasing their risk of breast cancer, social problems, and emotional problems.

While the biological signs of female puberty – menstruation, breast development, and growth of public and underarm hair – typically occurred around 13 years of age or older just decades ago, today girls as young as 8 are increasingly showing these signs.

African – American girls are particularly vulnerable to early puberty.

Aside from the social and emotional implications, early puberty exposes girls to more estrogen, which increases their risk of breast cancer because the disease thrives on estrogen.

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

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


Theories behind what is causing the early-puberty trend abound, but the actual causes are not known. Potential causes noted in the paper include:

  • Rising childhood obesity rates and inactivity

  • Formula-feeding of infants

  • Excessive TV viewing and media use

  • Family stress

  • Exposure to environmental chemicals & xenoestrogens

These man-made chemicals affect your hormones, which control development and function in your body. There is mounting evidence that they can cause harm in the development of fetuses and children, who are particularly sensitive to the chemicals because they have not yet developed the protective mechanisms present in adult bodies.

Sources of Xenoestrogens

If you think you and your children are not exposed to endocrine disrupters, think again. They’re commonly found in many household products and cosmetics, including:

  • Bovine growth hormones commonly added to commercial diary

  • Soy foods, which are loaded with hormone-like substances

  • Bisphenol A, commonly used in many plastics such as baby bottles, food-storage containers, and the lining of soda cans

  • Phthalates, also commonly used in plastics

  • Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) – better known as Teflon


What about soy?

Soy is present in many processes foods and Americans are eating it in unprecedented quantities in foods like soymilk, soy burgers, and soy ice cream.

Many babies are fed soy infant formula, which exposes their child to the equivalent birth control pill of estrogens every day. For this same season, it’s also important for pregnant women to avoid eating soy, as a high estrogenic environment in utero may increase their child’s subsequent breast cancer risk.

Other environmental chemicals like PCBs and DDE (a breakdown product of the pesticide DDT) may also be associated with early sexual development in girls. Both DDE and PCBs are known to mimic, or interfere with, sex hormones.

The same chemical exposures that are causing young kids to enter puberty well before their time can also lead to increased infertility and breast cancer rates down the road.


How can you protect yourself and your children from common toxic substances that could cause them to go into puberty years before they were designed to:

  • Store your food in glass containers whenever possible, as it is the most inert container you can use.

  • Only use natural cleaning products in your home. Most health food stores will have these available or you can search online for them.

  • Buy and eat, as much as possible, locally grown, organic foods that do not contain pesticides and added hormones.

  • Avoid processed foods, which are located with soy and other unsavory ingredients.

  • Switch to natural brands of toiletries, including shampoo, toothpaste, antiperspirants, and cosmetics. Use the same sources as above for these, either your local health food store or you can search online.

Chicago Tribune ~ Sept 16, 2007