Puberty is a time in a child’s life when his or her body goes through many changes as the child grows to be an adult. The timing of puberty is influenced by both genetics and the environment. While the timing of puberty is different for every child, experts believe that, overall, girls’ bodies have begun to show signs of entering puberty earlier now than in the recent past. Related studies have also shown that girls who begin puberty early may be more at risk for certain health problems and diseases, including breast cancer.
Obesity refers to a range of body weight greater than what is generally considered healthy for a given height. The term also identifies a range of weights that have been shown to increase the likelihood of certain diseases and other health problems. The role of body size in breast cancer risk is complex, and changes throughout a woman’s life. Although this relationship is not fully understood, a girl who is obese is more likely to develop breasts and get her period at an early age, which may present a higher risk of developing breast cancer when they are adults.
Animal Fats and Breast Development
While a certain amount of fat is essential for normal body function, some types of fats are healthier than others. Research in animal models has found links between eating too many foods high in animal fat with changes in mammary gland development that may predispose the gland toward cancer. The Breast Cancer and the Environment Research Program (BCERP) studies, and other breast cancer studies, have provided us with information that will enable us to better understand the relationship between the foods we eat and breast development in girls.
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Chemicals that Mimic Hormones (Endocrine Disruptors)
A growing body of evidence suggests that numerous chemicals in the environment that mimic hormones (referred to as endocrine-disrupting chemicals) may interfere with the endocrine system and produce the most harmful effects in developing bodies and may change the timing of when a girl develops breasts or gets her first period. This is why researchers are exploring the effect of certain endocrine-disrupting chemicals on girls, and whether or not reducing a girl’s exposure might help lower her later risk of developing breast cancer.