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Early puberty uncommon, but tough on kids and parents

{A href="http://search.bakersfieldnow.com/default.aspx?ct=r&q=Bakersfield"}BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) It is a medical condition robbing our children of their innocence and their childhood. It is called precocious puberty, and it is baffling parents and, to some degree, the medical community.

Milan Lozano loves kindergarten, her little brother and her kittens. She looks like a normal 5 year old, but this Bakersfield resident was diagnosed with central precocious puberty at age 2. She receives monthly shots of Lupron, a hormonal suppressant, but even with the medication she still deals with extremely high estrogen levels, ovarian cysts, cramping, pain and heavy bleeding.

Milan and her family spends a great deal of time with specialists at the University of California, Los Angeles. Eyewitness News sat down with Dr. John Ching, a pediatric endocrinologist who tells us precocious puberty is the early onset of puberty. That means breast development for girls at age 8 or testicular enlargement for boys before age 9.

Precocious puberty can be broken down into three groups: central, exogenous and endogenous.

Milan has central, where he brain started puberty and doctors don't know why.

Exogenous occurs when the child is exposed to testosterone or estrogen, and endogenous means the child has a tumor that causes the brain to jump start the process. Many blame a link to childhood obesity, others say environmental toxins are to blame, or chemicals called phalates. But many other studies are simply inconclusive.

Ching called the condition rare and said he is seeing between three and five patients in Kern County with it now. Overall, he said the age children hit puberty has been declining over the past two decades. Age 8 is where it generally begins now, but it's sooner than that for African-American girls. Exact numbers are hard to track, because doctors are not required to report these cases to medical boards or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, because precocious puberty is not an infectious disease.

Milan has physical challenges that are a constant concern for her parents, but what about her overall emotional state as she deals with this diagnosis? Researchers with the Mayo Clinic say, "Children who begin puberty early may feel different from their peers, which can cause social and emotional problems, low self-esteem, depression and substance abuse."

Parents may also have trouble dealing with a child's early development, and the group recommends getting professional help. Milan's family has been in counseling for more than a year, and they know the importance of family support. Grecia Alvarez, Milan's mom, has a sister who is only 2 and was also recently diagnosed with central precocious puberty.

What happens to these children when they grow up? Eyewitness News met Monique Miller, a 33-year-old married woman and a mother. Someone who knows firsthand what Milan is going through and what's to come, Monique noticed body hair around age 5. The doctors said there was nothing wrong with her but told her mom to prepare her for early development. Monique said breast development followed at age 8. Menstruation at age 9.

"I kind just had to go with it," Monique said.

She credited a close group of friends, and especially her mother's loving guidance, for helping her though it. But as she got older, Monique was dealing with something else - a sex drive she didn't understand. She advises parents who may be dealing with this to keep the lines of communication open and be honest with their children.

Can precocious puberty be prevented? Some risk factors simply can't be avoided, such as sex and race. But researchers at the Mayo Clinic say you may be able to reduce your child's chances of developing it. You are advised to keep kids away from external sources of estrogen and testosterone that could be found in things like prescription medications and supplements. Also, encourage your child to maintain a healthy weight.

If you have any concerns, take your child to the pediatrician. The doctors can evaluate the situation and make a referral, if necessary.

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