Puberty is an important transition that enables reproduction of mammalian species. Precocious puberty, specifically early thelarche (the appearance of breast “buds”), in girls of multiple ethnic backgrounds is a major health problem in the United States and other countries. The cause for a continued decrease in the age of breast development in girls is unknown, but environmental factors likely play a major role. Laboratory and epidemiological studies have identified several individual environmental factors that affect breast development, but further progress is needed. Current research needs include increased attention to and recording of prenatal and neonatal environmental exposures, testing of marketed chemicals for effects on the mammary gland, and understanding of the mammary gland–specific mechanisms that are altered by chemicals. Such research is required to halt the increasing trend toward puberty at earlier ages.

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An Interview with Suzanne Fenton

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Author Suzanne Fenton discusses the rapid drop in breast development age, which she calls an epidemic, and its consequences. She also lists chemicals that may be responsible, explains what parents can do to help prevent it, and calls for more funding for research and education.

  • Article Type: Review Article
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