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Most everyone knows that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the pink ribbons are coming out everywhere. Breast cancer is the most common cancer among African-American women. It is also the second leading cause of cancer death among African-American women.

I am sure that in recent years you have heard friends and family that have been diagnosed with breast cancer. The breast cancer incidence in African-American women is lower than in White women. However, for women younger than 45, incidence is higher among African-American women than White women. It is very important that we practice good breast health.

Here’s how you can do so.

Self Breast Exam

When you begin menstruating I would recommend that one-week after your period you do a self-breast exam. This is necessary so that you can familiarize yourself with your breasts and what lumps and bumps that are normal for your breasts. I recommend one week after your cycle because that is usually the same time every month and your breasts sometimes have different changes during your cycle so this ensures that your breasts are normal and the same this time every month. The best places to check your breasts are in the shower or lying down on your bed or the floor. Also do not forget to check the tissue under your armpit many breast cancers are found there as well.

Clinical Breast Exam

A physical examination of your breasts by a doctor, nurse practitioner, nurse, or other health professional is known as a Clinical Breast Examination. This is a thorough examination of the entire breast and chest areas, including the areas above and below the collarbone and under each arm. The health care professional can teach you the correct techniques for performing your own self-breast examination. Another reason why it is so absolutely necessary for you to have your annual exam ANNUALLY.

Screening Mammography

I recommend that you have a baseline mammogram around 35 years old. Not all physicians agree with that but I tend to err on the side of caution. Most insurance companies will completely cover a baseline mammogram. If you have a family history of breast cancer you may need to have your first mammogram age 30-35 years. Otherwise you need to have your mammogram annually starting at 40 years old.

Ways To Prevent Cancer

Breast health is important but there are some things that we can do to help prevent cancer. Here are 7 tips that will hopefully help you stay cancer free.

  1. Just say no to tobacco – Everyone already knows that smoking can cause lung cancer. But did you know that secondhand smoke causes thousands of deaths due to lung cancer every year?
  1. Let’s move – The First Lady started this campaign and not only is it a great way to assist in weight management it is equally as important to prevent cancer. It is recommended that you do 20 minutes a day of moderate aerobic activity and 10 minutes a day of vigorous aerobic activity. If you can do more than this that is even better.
  1. Protect your skin – Yes Black people can get skin cancer, I know this comes as a surprise. Make certain you wear sunscreen when you will be outside in the sun.
  1. Get your shots – Get immunized to prevent certain types of cancer. Hepatitis B has been linked to liver cancer. Make certain you keep your immunizations up-to-date.
  1. Avoid risky behaviors – Practice safe sex by limiting your number of partners and using condoms. Some of the sexually transmitted infections can lead to higher risk of different types of cancer. Do not share needles because of the high incidence of Hepatitis B, C and HIV which all can lead to increase risk of liver cancer. If you have a drug problem seek help to stop.
  1. Visit the doctor regularly – Regular doctor visits will allow you to receive regular screening for various types of cancer. When cancer is caught early you increase your odds of curing your condition. Also your doctor can help you to develop a plan to stay healthy.
  1. Eat right – Eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans will help you reduce your cancer risk. Fiber is especially important when preventing colon cancer. Obesity can increase your risk of cancer so try not to eat too many high fat foods.

Please remind your girlfriends, sisters, mothers, aunts, grandmothers, godmothers to check their breasts and get their mammograms. We need to decrease the numbers of Black women dying of breast cancer. There are several ways to get a mammogram if you do not have insurance, so if you or someone you know have found a lump and do not have access to insurance, look for the nearest Mammo-van or mobile mammogram program etc. If you have any more questions, do not hesitate to Ask Dr. Renee.

Dr. Renee Matthews has appeared on television shows such as “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and WGN’s “People to People”  where she discussed different health topics. She started her media career with her own radio show on ReachMD, a programming source for health professionals. In addition Dr. Renee has been a featured medical correspondent on Sirius XM’s “Sway in the Morning.” 

Dr. Renee earned her undergraduate degree in 1999 and her Medical Doctorate in 2005. She spent the early part of her medical career as an educator for numerous hospitals and attending staff on cord blood. 

Twitter: @AskDrRenee

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