Protect Your Girls: Black Women and Breast Cancer Prevention

October 1, 2014  |  

Since October is National Breast Cancer Awareness month, I am pretty sure it has many of us thinking about our personal twins and those who continue to fight the fight. You may even be swayed to purchase a product or two with proceeds benefiting breast cancer research. While this is fine and dandy, African American women in particular need to take a closer look at health and prevention as breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in our community. Though the actual risk of breast cancer in a black woman’s lifetime is lower than white women, our death rates are significantly higher.

Do I have your attention now?

While it’s important that all women stay up-to-date on their health, black women should really pay close attention to breast cancer as we are more likely than any group to die from breast cancer–and that’s not even the scary part. According to a study by the Journal of the American Medical Association, African-American women are not as likely to survive breast cancer within a five year diagnosis. And if that’s not enough, the Black Women’s Health Imperative reveals that breast cancer appears in black women at a younger age and in more advanced forms. In fact, we are twice as likely to develop triple negative breast cancer that’s so aggressive it has few effective treatments to combat it compared to white women.

So what can we do to help prevent breast cancer and give ourselves somewhat of a fighting chance? “We need to get out there and talk to each other about how to be vigilant regarding breast cancer screening, and breast cancer early detection,” reveals Lisa A. Newman, MD, MPH. “We need to take care of each other as a community.” Though there is no 100 percent foolproof way not to get cancer (especially if you have a family history), early detection is key since many black women don’t discover they have breast cancer until it’s in advanced stages, which may be too late.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office on Women’s Health, clinical breast exams and mammograms are key. Regular breast screenings are an essential tool that can possibly save your life. You should have your practitioner perform a breast exam at least once a year (typically during your physical checkup) and begin mammograms annually starting at age 40. Those with a family history of breast cancer, however may be recommended to begin mammograms earlier. The Black Women’s Health Imperative also adds that African American women in particular should request a digital mammography if available as our breasts tend to be much denser than other women which can pose an issue with standard detection methods. “One mammogram is not enough!” Phillipa Woodriffe, MD points out. Regardless of what age you begin your annual mammogram, stick with it as the fewer screenings you get the more likely the cancer will grow undetected.

Okay so doctor breast exams and mammograms when the time comes, check. What else can we do? The Sisters Network (a National African American Breast Cancer Survivorship Organization) stresses the importance of good health. Things like regular physical activity not only reduces your risk of obesity and high blood pressure, but can even take preventative measures against breast cancer.

The bottom line is too many of us are dying from breast cancer that could have possibly been prevented if detected earlier on. Though we may not have total control over the outcome of our life, we can make the necessary steps to help ensure we one that’s healthy and cancer-free.


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