Which Teens May be More Likely to Get Cancer?

Published 04/16 2014 05:30PM

Updated 04/16 2014 05:34PM

Teen boys who describe themselves as very masculine and girls who see themselves as very feminine seem to be more likely to behave in ways that increase their cancer risk.

A study, led by researchers at Harvard School of Public Health, analyzed data from 9,435 young people in the Growing Up Today Study (GUTS).

They found that the most feminine teenage girls use tanning beds more frequently and are more likely to be physically inactive, while the most masculine teenage boys are more likely to use chewing tobacco and to smoke cigars.

Tobacco use, indoor tanning, and physical inactivity-all risk factors for cancer-are highly prevalent among young people in America. It's known that risk behavior differs according to gender: Boys are more likely to chew tobacco and smoke cigars, while girls are more likely to use tanning beds and be physically inactive.

However, the least masculine boys and least feminine girls were more likely to smoke cigarettes.

"Engaging in risk behaviors in adolescence likely increases the risk of engaging in similar behaviors in adulthood," said senior author S. Bryn Austin, associate professor in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at HSPH. "So it is important to focus on prevention during the teen years, challenging notions such as 'tanning makes one beautiful' or 'cigar smoking and chewing tobacco is rugged or manly.'"

The study appears online  in the  current issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health.

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