January 21st, 2011
07:08 PM ET

Mastectomy for a preschooler

Aleisha Hunter is not your average 4-year-old. In fact, she's the youngest breast cancer survivor in Canada.

Not exactly the news her mother Melanie was expecting when she noticed a small lump in her daughter's breast while bathing her when she was 2.  Finally after trying to figure out what was causing Aleisha so much pain, at the age of 3, doctors diagnosed  juvenile breast carcinoma, a very rare form of  cancer.

"Certainly breast cancer has been reported in children and in adolescents, but it's very rare in prepubrescent girls," says Dr. Thomas Olson, medical director of the Aflac Cancer Center and Blood Disorders Service in Atlanta. Fewer than 5 percent of invasive breast cancers occur in women under age 40, according to The National Institute for Health.   About 12.2 percent of women born today will get a  breast cancer diagnosis at some time in their lives, according to The National Cancer Institute.

"There are many adult woman who have been tested and know that they carry a breast cancer gene mutation. I think it's important for them to realize that there is no evidence to support the risk of breast cancer in childhood for their daughters," says Dr. Sharon Plon, chief of Texas Children's Cancer Center Genetics Clinic.

Aleisha's physician, Dr. Nancy Down  the deputy chief of surgery at North York General Hospital, decided on a left-sided modified radical mastectomy for the 3- year-old.   She didn't treat Aleisha with chemotherapy or radiation. "Whenever you have a rare case you go with a logical treatment. First you know you need surgery. The question is whether chemotherapy will add to that therapy, but you probably should not give chemotherapy unless you really think it will help," says Olson a pediatric oncologist.

Downs told NBC the advantage to this rare type of cancer it's slow growing, it doesn't spread as aggressively as other types and the prognosis is usually very good.  She says Aleisha will have to get reconstructive surgery on her breast once she hits puberty.  "If parents are suspicious of something unusual...you  have to be your child's best advocate and it's important to follow-up if you are concerned about something  in your child that you haven't seen resolved," says Plon.

In November Aleisha was honored as the 2010 Ambassador for Random Act of Kindness (RAK) Day in Cambridge and North Dumfries in Canada where she is from. The day encourages people to "pay it forward" and pay tribute to those who do kindnesses on that day and all yearlong.

soundoff (174 Responses)
  1. Thurston Murray

    My heart goes out to the little Canadian girl, what a bad disease to happen to her at such a young age. I was 37 when I got Male Breast Camcer, amd that was 28 years ago! Breast Cancer can and is a disease that can be defeated–go luck on your road to long term survival my dear. Sincerely, Thurston

    January 23, 2011 at 20:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. helpfulthinking

    I am, indeed, an american. I can personally tell you from broken fingers to a 103.6 degree fever with pneumonia...money matters here. Unless you're a doctors kid, related to the president or we can make a HUGE story on the news from it. i waited in the ER for 12 hours with pneumonia, only to be denied because my parents made 50 dollars more a month than to be qualified for medicaid. i was seven. age doesn't matter, color doesn't matter, religion doesn't matter. its the money. and i have plenty of friends and ex-coworkers from canada that say, even for just a fever, that theyve never once waited in an er room for more than an hour. I LOVE GREEDY PEOPLE. Sarcasm. All in all i wish the best for this little girl and those who suround her. america needs to clean the act up a bit btw.

    January 23, 2011 at 22:06 | Report abuse | Reply
    • hollybush 123

      A year ago I ended up in the ER here in Canada with bronchitis and severe dehydration. I was seen and assessed by a nurse within 5 minutes and within 15 minutes was receiving treatment and saw the ER doctor. Four hours later I was able to go home wit a prescription. I wish the same level of care for Americans.

      January 23, 2011 at 23:24 | Report abuse |
  3. Cathy

    You all complain too much. If the parents chose to give permission to release her name (and who cares?!!) why should it bother you??

    January 24, 2011 at 00:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Cathy

    Obviously, her parents decided to release her name. So what?? I am pretty sure if you are a parent , you will make decisions I don't agree with and vice versa. That's why it is the parents right with their minor children. Get over it.

    January 24, 2011 at 00:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Kelly

    She received recognition for recovering from cancer and spreading awareness.
    This is clearly something that isn't to be ashamed of.

    January 24, 2011 at 01:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. oh please

    no one reads

    her name was made PUBLIC before this article was written.....shesh

    January 24, 2011 at 02:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Ceasar Salad w/Booger bits

    Gosh...what a bunch of whiners and crybabies. "Oh they used her name, OH MY GOD, what were they thinking..." SHUT YOUR MOUTHS YOU SILLY LIB-TURDS!

    January 24, 2011 at 09:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Cieje Valentine

    Ouch! Bummer. Best wishes to the girl and her family.

    January 24, 2011 at 10:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. sara

    That is the beauty of being a parent..YOU choose what information YOU want to give out about YOUR child..if you dont like the fact that her name was given out then dont give it out if something like that happens to your child..your choice..who cares..make your own choice and stay out of others business

    January 24, 2011 at 11:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Beth1

    This whole blotting started w/ a comment about her name being used. Who now, without going back to the article, can remember her name? How many complaining about the name being used have stopped and watched a show that depicts conjoined twins or a show depicting other abnormailities where names and videos are shown and not thought a thing about it? It's up to the family and I, for one, have better things to do than to judge their decision nor is it my right. I'm glad that it has been brought to the readers attention that cancer can happen at any age. Problems with health care – yes no matter where you live. In the US how many arguing have contacted their representative and voiced a complaint – better there than here!

    January 24, 2011 at 11:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. the Wash

    Oh yes, I'm sure that little girl is just livid that her name was used publicly. (<-- sarcasm)

    January 24, 2011 at 18:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. wendy

    Whoever said using her name is the same as if she had lost an arm or leg has never been a 13 year old girl. There was no public interest need to use her full name. The parents should be ashamed, and so should CNN. With or without the parent's permission, they should know better.

    January 26, 2011 at 08:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. wendy

    Beth1 – the girl and her classmates will google her name someday, and there will be very public information about one of a young girl's most sensitive areas. It's not about whether we remember it now. It's about everything we tell our kids about stuff they post on-line being there forever.

    January 26, 2011 at 08:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Dr.Full

    I find myself keying on the comment by Hollybush 123 who says "It was a very personal and private part of the body." Unlike, say, toes or kidneys, which are not very personal and private parts of our bodies? Interestingly, breasts do not even enjoy the distinction of being components of certain parts of the human anatomy accorded special socially "delicate" status such as the reproductive or excretory systems. Not to say breasts aren't biologically useful (although no longer particularly important), but as we all know the primary role women's breasts now play in modern society is as part of a wide-ranging social "seduction system." Covering, exposing or discussing women's breasts has become principally a socio-economic act. In our so-called advanced society a woman's virginity is no longer critical to her social–and therefore economic–status, and we mock supposedly more primitive societies where this tradition lives on. Yet women in our advanced society can still obtain their material living through the strategic employment/deployment of their breasts. Hollybush 123, for all of her fastidiousness and preciosity about anatomy, is effectively validating and perpetuating this system. Way to go, Holly.

    January 26, 2011 at 12:51 | Report abuse | Reply
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