Adolescent Program

Adolescent Breast Cancer Prevention, Risk Reduction and Education Project

The Adolescent Education project was created to communicate information learned from the Adolescent Risk Factors Study and related research suggesting that puberty and adolescence may be influential periods for the development of breast cancer. The Adolescent Education project came about as a result of concerns expressed by mothers and breast cancer survivors, coupled with MBCW's commitment to developing educational strategies to reduce breast cancer risk for the current generation. Funding for the initial creation of the program was provided through a $10,000 grant from the Marin Breast Cancer Council and $5,000 from SBC. Additional support was provided by the Avon Foundation.

To create persuasive, developmentally appropriate and culturally sensitive breast cancer risk reduction and educational messages that will motivate adolescent girls living in Marin County to reduce lifetime breast cancer risk through minimizing exposures to known or suspected environmental factors and through practicing healthy behaviors.

To increase community awareness of the growing evidence that early life events can play a role in the development of breast cancer, including the onset of puberty and the accompanying changes in mammary gland development. To communicate new directions in research suggesting that adolescence may be a period of susceptibility requiring extra caution and awareness.

To disseminate research evidence suggesting that adolescent choices regarding diet, alcohol, physical activity and specific environmental exposures may affect later breast cancer risk. To translate information from research into factors associated with breast cancer in a manner that is useful and effective for adolescents, parents and teachers.

The Need
Survey: A Spring 2004 MBCW survey of 140 Marin County middle school and high school teachers has indicated that student questions frequently prompt classroom discussions on breast cancer, followed by specific lessons, projects, and outside speakers. Marin adolescent students are personally concerned about breast cancer, often because a parent, relative, or someone they know is directly affected by this disease. A significant number of students are aware of Marin County's high breast cancer incidence. When asked to identify classroom needs, teachers were interested in information on prevention, including lifestyle and environmental precautions, genetic factors, and targeted materials for older teen girls and students who are coping with breast cancer in the family. The majority of teachers surveyed would consider using brief, targeted breast cancer educational materials appropriate for their students and the subjects they teach.

Focus Groups: Marin teen girls and mothers of teen girls echoed similar themes during a series of focus groups conducted by an experienced moderator in May-June 2004. Participants perceived a gap in specific information about breast cancer for adolescent girls living in Marin County, although they were aware of the significant incidence and impact on the community. Local teen girls have a variety of concerns and would like to have access to credible, personally relevant information. Mothers of teen girls are interested in resources for talking with their daughters about breast cancer, including what is currently known about risk-reduction. Mothers with breast cancer have expressed a need for more specific information and support for teens coping with breast cancer in the family. MBCW's focus group results indicated that Marin teens and mothers of adolescent girls would be interested in a multi-faceted teen breast cancer awareness and education program integrated with health education in the schools.

Comparative Educational Models: Other regions in the country have established effective, model adolescent outreach breast cancer education programs during the past ten years. Through creatively employing teen friendly media to translate scientific principles and promote a focus on personal health, thousands of teens are being educated annually about what is known about breast cancer and steps they can take to stay healthy and informed. During the past year, the MBCW Community Advisory Committee evaluated educational materials and interviews with directors from the following distinct programs developed by professional health educators:

  • Teens Talk About Breast Cancer, Adelphi NY Statewide Breast Cancer Hotline Support Program
  • Growing Healthy Girls - Environment & Breast Cancer Teaching Tools for Change, Cornell University Program on Breast Cancer and Environmental Risk Factors
  • Check-It-Out Teen Health Awareness Program, Hadassah Women's Zionist Organization
  • B.S.E. Better Start Early, Alice Aycock Poe Health Education Center in Raleigh, North Carolina
Each of these programs offer strategies and resources that could be effectively incorporated into an adolescent breast cancer educational program unique to Marin County.

Program Plan

MBCW is creating a pilot proposal, which will focus on developing and disseminating breast cancer informational messages using a trained peer health educator communication approach.

MBCW is approaching grant and foundation sources to determine project interest and compatibility of this program with the priorities of potential beneficiaries. MBCW is consulting with peer education experts, local educational leaders and others to plan and develop a viable teen breast cancer education outreach pilot project that will meet the needs of the community.

MBCW will work to create a model breast cancer health communication program over a two-year period. Program development and pilot testing will take place in 2005. Field testing with a larger student audience would occur in following year, so that the pilot program can be a model for other communities on how best to communicate with adolescent girls about breast cancer risk.

Community members, including health educators and health care professionals, youth group representatives, breast cancer survivors and advocates, high school students, teachers and parents will continue to serve as advisors to MBCW in the formation of an adolescent education program.