10-Year-Old Girl Battles Rare Breast Cancer

"I don't want the outcome to be that mothers are panicked across the country wanting to have their daughters in elementary and middle and high school to get mammograms or even clinical breast exams," Shockney said. "This is a highly unusual situation."

Shockney was not the only one to express reservations about how the situation should be broached to the public. While the Auslam family has been very open about Hannah's fight, the media coverage of her experience has sparked debate among breast cancer experts as to whether or not such a rare case of cancer should be given widespread coverage.

The risk of calling attention to such a story, said Fran Visco, president of the National Breast Cancer Coalition, could give parents and their daughters the impression that this form of cancer is far more common in young girls than it actually is -- a misconception that she said could lead to unnecessary fear and unneeded medical procedures.

"Breast cancer in this population is exceedingly rare, less than one in a million," Visco said. "We don't want these girls doing self exams and getting mammograms. We don't want to spread that message; it will only result in harm and no benefit. It's important to understand: this could be harmful to these young women."

Cancer in Young Girls 'Not a Public Health Issue'

Dr. Daniel Hayes, clinical director of the Breast Oncology Program at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center in Ann Arbor, agreed that there was no need for young girls to begin unnecessary cancer screening.

"This is not a major public health issue, and there is no 'take home' message," he said. "What we don't want is a bunch of young girls having unnecessary biopsies or, worse, mammograms."

On the other side of the debate is Dr. Marisa Weiss, the president and founder of Breastcancer.org and author of the book "Taking Care of Your 'Girls': A Breast Health Guide for Girls, Teens, and In-Betweens."

Weiss heads up the Prevention Initiative for girls, a national outreach program designed to educate girls ages 8 to 18 on breast health and breast cancer prevention. She firmly supports the idea of educating girls about breast cancer and how to prevent it, even at a young age range. At the same time, she noted, "the fact is that breast cancer in girls is extraordinarily rare, though it does happen."

So why tell these girls about breast cancer at all? Weiss said that educating girls when they are young lays the foundation for a lifetime of breast health.

"What we do is explain to them what to expect in terms of breast development -- what are healthy changes, and what are unhealthy changes."

Weiss added that establishing positive breast health habits when girls are young -- habits such as healthy eating, exercise and smoking avoidance -- has the potential to lower future breast cancer rates.

"There is an opportunity, while they are that age, to build the healthiest foundation possible… this is just about the time when they begin to take up those unhealthy behaviors."

Parents Must Communicate Concerns to Doctors

Regardless of how rare Hannah's cancer is, some doctors said the case illustrates the need for parents to communicate their concerns to doctors -- and for doctors to take into account any potential health threats, however unusual.

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