Girl diagnosed with breast cancer at just 8 years old

Nov 24, 2015 at 2:34 p.m. ET

Third-graders are supposed to be taking multiplication exams, not doing breast self-exams. But the news that an 8-year-old girl has breast cancer has a lot of parents wondering: Is my child at risk too?

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Chrissy Turner is a third-grader from Centerville, Utah. When she noticed a lump on her chest, she told her parents, who told doctors, only to hear news no parent expects: Their 8-year-old has secretory breast carcinoma, a rare cancer that can occur in adults but most commonly occurs in children (it's also sometimes called juvenile breast carcinoma).

Now the little girl is facing a mastectomy and a long battle with cancer. Complicating things for the family is the fact that Chrissy's dad himself is currently battling non-Hodgkin lymphoma, which has already put a strain on the family's emotions and finances.

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The good news here — if there can be such a thing when you're talking children and cancer — is that this little girl did everything right. She told her parents about the lump, and that open line of communication is what prompted them to go to doctors, who caught the cancer and are starting treatment.

If you're a parent reading this, that may be the single most important thing you walk away with: It's important to make sure our kids are comfortable talking about their changing bodies with us.

Again, secretory breast carcinoma is extremely rare. Stanford Medical Center reports it accounts for less than 1 percent of all "infiltrating carcinomas." And a family friend notes on a GoFundMe page for the Turners that specialists in America have never seen it in a child as young as Chrissy, and there are just 15 cases total that they can use to compare to hers.

But while most kids are at very low risk for this particular disease, cancer overall is responsible for the deaths of more children than any other disease — more than all the childhood diseases combined. It's estimated that before they turn 20, about 1 in 285 children in the U.S. will have cancer. Even more startling, while many adult cancers can be caught earlier, in 80 percent of kids, cancer has already spread to other areas of the body by the time it is diagnosed.

Catching kids' cancer is dependent not only on parents paying attention to changes in their kids but also on kids talking to us about what's going on. That can be especially crucial as they hit puberty and their bodies start to change naturally.

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In particular, the American Cancer Society warns parents to pay special attention if any of the following symptoms crop up, as they can be signs of childhood cancer:

  • An unusual lump or swelling
  • Unexplained paleness and loss of energy
  • Easy bruising
  • An ongoing pain in one area of the body
  • Limping
  • Unexplained fever or illness that doesn’t go away
  • Frequent headaches, often with vomiting
  • Sudden eye or vision changes
  • Sudden unexplained weight loss

What else can we do?

Listen. Ask questions. And let our kids know that there are no stupid questions about their bodies.