According to the Center for Disease Control, between 1999 and 2013, Black women were less likely to get breast cancer than our white counterparts. However, we were more likely to succumb to the deadly disease. 40 percent more likely, to be exact. Since 2010, breast cancer rates among white women have decreased while rates among Black women have slightly increased.
Currently, the rates are approximately the same between Black and white women, but breast cancer still proves to be significantly more fatal for Black women. One reason is that Black women are more likely to be diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer, a more aggressive form of the illness with a higher likelihood of returning after treatment. Other reasons include later detection, lack of healthcare and poor access to care.
As with many things, we have to take our health into our own hands. While there is no one way to completely prevent the occurrence of breast cancer, there are measures we can take to reduce the risk of breast cancer.
Minimize alcohol consumption
According to the Susan G. Komen Foundation, multiple studies have found a correlation between alcohol consumption and breast cancer. One study found that women who consumed two to three drinks per day had a 20 percent higher risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer. Alcohol has been proven to alter the way that a woman’s body metabolizes estrogen. As a result, this can result in an increase in blood estrogen levels. Higher estrogen levels have been linked to breast cancer. Of course, low to moderate use of alcohol in women poses no risk. One drink per day in women has not been known to pose serious health risks.
Some researchers believe that there is is a correlation between breast cancer occurrences in younger, premenopausal women and smoking. Further, there has been a risk between second-hand smoke and breast cancer occurrence of postmenopausal women, according to BreastCancer.org. While findings regarding the link between smoking and breast cancers are mixed, it has been definitively linked to lung cancer, kidney cancer, and pancreatic, so it’s probably best to avoid this potential risk factor.
According to the American Cancer Society, several studies have found that breastfeeding may slightly lower a woman’s risk of breast cancer — particularly if a mother chooses to nurse for a year or longer. However, this link has been hard to study, especially in countries like the United States, where breastfeeding for this long is uncommon.
Research suggests that there is a connection between exercising regularly and lowered risk of breast cancer — particularly in postmenopausal women. The American Cancer Society recommends that “adults get 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity each week (or a combination of these). Getting to or going over the upper limit of 300 minutes is ideal.”
Eat your fruits and veggies
While not many dietary factors have been linked to breast cancer, according to the Susan G. Komen Foundation, some studies have found a link between regular consumption of fruits and vegetables and a decreased risk of developing some forms of breast cancer. Further, as Web MD points out, consumption of produce is believed to protect against some of “the most aggressive forms of tumors.”
Manage your weight
Overweight and obese women have been found to be at higher risk of developing breast cancer in comparison to women who maintained a healthy weight. According to breastcancer.org, this correlation rings particularly true in women who are postmenopause. Fat cells hold estrogen and increased fat cells result in higher estrogen levels. Further, estrogen can result in the development and growth of tumors in hormone-receptor-positive breast cancers.
Although self-breast exams are no longer recommended as they have not been found to help reduce breast cancer-related deaths, medical professionals continue to encourage breast awareness. According to the American Cancer Society, “it is very important for women to be aware of how their breasts normally look and feel and to report any changes to a health care provider right away. This is especially important if a woman notices a breast change at some point in between her regular mammogram.”
Get annual mammograms
Currently, it is recommended that women between the ages of 40 to 44 years of age should have the option to begin annual mammograms if they wish. Women 44 to 54 years of age should get screened annually and women 55 and older should have the option to test annually or every two years. Studies have found that breast cancers discovered by annual mammograms are usually smaller and less advanced than those discovered during mammograms that took place every two years.
Genetic counseling and testing
Modern medicine has made assessing one’s risk of developing various forms of cancer much simpler. This can be especially helpful for women who have inherited gene mutations that make them particularly vulnerable to breast cancer. As the American Cancer Society explains, “When it comes to breast cancer risk, the most important inherited gene changes are in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. Women (and men) with one of these gene changes are said to have Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer (HBOC) syndrome.”
If, through genetic testing, a person is found to be at risk of developing breast cancer as a result of having the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene or any other gene mutation or if they have a solid family history of breast cancer, their doctor may recommend a procedure called a prophylactic mastectomy to reduce their risk of developing breast cancer. Women with the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes may also be advised to have a prophylactic oophorectomy, which is a removal of the ovaries, as well.