If you or a blood relative has suffered from breast cancer and you have a daughter who may also carry a higher risk for the disease, this is likely not the first time you’ve wondered when and what to tell her. There are so many factors to consider in deciding when to bring up such a terrible topic, and it’s hard to know exactly how much to say and which parts to leave out. But the bottom line is that your daughter needs to know about her breast cancer risk at some point so that she can be diligent about self-exams and know the warning signs.
Here are some things to consider when deciding whether to tell your daughter about her breast cancer risk right away or to wait.
Good news or bad news?
You might want to base your decision of when to tell your daughter about her breast cancer risk somewhat on how good or bad the news is. If you don’t have a family history of breast cancer but just want her to be informed, you’ll likely be able to share the relatively good news with her earlier than if you’ve had several family members diagnosed with the disease. Then again, adolescence may be the perfect time to share potentially bad news with your daughter, because at that point, the threat feels more distant and less serious.
Consider physical maturity.
Puberty is the time in a girl’s life when her risk for breast cancer—particularly the hormone-receptor-positive varieties—skyrockets. If your daughter hasn’t gone through puberty yet, you can probably safely wait a while to talk to her about her risk for breast cancer. Once she’s in that stage of her life, however, you’re probably going to want to do it sooner rather than later. It’s also just good to get your daughter in the habit of checking her breasts every month as soon as she has a regular monthly cycle to use as a “timer” and some breast tissue to be able perform self-checks on.
Keep mental maturity in mind too.
Things would be easier if there were a specific age at which everyone was precisely mature enough to learn about their breast cancer risk. However, some children mature mentally and emotionally faster than others, and nobody knows your daughter better than you do. Some young women find that knowing about their breast cancer risk gives them a sense of empowerment, while others feel like they can’t freely enjoy their youth. Use your best judgment in deciding how much your daughter is “old” enough to know.
Think about the consequences.
One of the things that happens when you tell your daughter about her breast cancer risk is that you bring her into the decision-making process. For example, if the BRCA gene runs in your family and you tell your daughter about it, she may decide she wants to get tested and may desire additional screening or even a double mastectomy if she tests positive. If you’re not ready to let her make those decisions, it might be best to wait a bit.
If you’re ready to tell your daughter the truth about her breast cancer risk but don’t know how to do it, we’ve got you covered there too.
Click “next” for some tips for giving your daughter the information she needs without overloading her or making a messy situation for yourself.
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?