You’ve gotten your teenager their school supplies, made sure they got their physicals and immunizations, and you’ve had “the chat” about risky behavior and good decision making. But there’s one more back-to-school conversation you need to have: How to recognize subtle physical health changes that aren’t just the stress of balancing schoolwork, clubs, sports and a social life.

You can’t be there with your children all the time. As they grow more independent it’s important to teach your kids how to recognize when they should seek health care and how to advocate for their own health. Knowledge is powerful, and with 15-40 Connection’s 3 Steps Detect, it can be lifesaving, so use our simple tips on early cancer detection to guide the discussion.

Every young adult should know 3 Steps Detect

Cancer is far less common in adolescents and young adults compared to the middle-aged and elderly. But roughly 1 in 2 men and 1 in 3 women are diagnosed with cancer at some point in their life. Survival rates are much higher when cancer is detected early. For your child to benefit from the lifesaving advantage of early cancer detection they need to know when to visit the doctor and what to say.

The most common warning sign of cancer is a subtle health change that persists. This is why the first tenet of 3 Steps Detect is to make note of what ‘great’ feels like to you. Each person has a different normal. Knowing what’s normal for you helps you to pick up on subtle health changes. As a few examples, encourage your son or daughter to think about their normal energy level, motor control, sleep patterns, bathroom habits, weight and skin.

If you experience health changes, even in ways that seem harmless, such as fatigue or general soreness, and it persists for two weeks or longer, it can be a sign of an underlying illness — cancer or otherwise. Most health issues resolve within two weeks, but if it does not, make sure to use the 2-week rule and visit a doctor to find out what is causing the change.

Lastly, stress to your children that, even if they don’t want to share everything with you, it’s vital to be transparent and open with your doctor. For example, a common reason for delayed diagnosis with testicular cancer is that many are embarrassed to talk about health changes down there. If your son or daughter doesn’t feel comfortable telling everything to their primary care physician let them know that it’s fine to switch doctors to someone they connect with better.

People often feel that their job is done by simply taking themselves to the doctor, but that’s not the case. The patient is part of a healthcare team, and the more actively he or she participates, the more likely doctors can provide an accurate diagnosis. Coming in prepared with notes and questions is a great way to advocate for yourself as a patient, and if you don’t agree with a diagnosis, it is okay to ask a doctor what else it could be, when you should feel better and what to do if you don’t.

Common adolescent and young adult cancers

The National Cancer Institute predicts roughly 70,000 cases each year of adolescent and young adult cancer, which is defined as people between the ages of 15 to 39.

Leukemia, lymphoma, testicular cancer and thyroid cancer are the most common cancers in people between the ages of 15 to 24. Encourage your children to read up on 3 Steps Detect and read about subtle symptoms others experienced in our Learn From Me section. Communicate the importance of regular testicular or breast self-exams to feel for abnormalities, and skin self-exams to help to identify suspicious moles and any other changes to bring up to the doctor.

It’s time for the kids to head back to school, so as you get them ready for the school year ahead, make sure you equip them with knowledge to be proactive about their own health!

What’s in it for you?

Much more!