Dr. Dee McLeod Talks Cancer

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Clinical trials, with representative samples of black American women, provides crucial information for scientists into what does and doesn’t work and why. One size does not fit all in cancer treatment and in order to save black women’s lives and improve their health, their participation in medical trials is critical.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) estimated more than 26,000 black women would be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011, the most commonly diagnosed cancer among black women. It is the second leading cause of cancer death in women, surpassed only by lung cancer.

The ACS recommends that the best preventive strategy for women is to reduce known risk factors as much as possible by avoiding weight gain and obesity (for postmenopausal breast cancer), engaging in regular physical activity, minimizing alcohol intake and consider the increased risk of breast cancer associated with a combined estrogen and progestin menopausal hormone therapy to relieve menopausal symptoms, including hot flashes.

But it’s not just a matter of access to health care. Even after accounting for income and access to strong health care outcomes for African American women are poorer than for white women, even as the ACS reports some narrowing of the disparity gap.

The conventional wisdom for women, generally, has been that all women age 40 and older should have a mammogram every one to two years, and that women over 20 should have a clinical breast exam every three years and should perform monthly self-exams.

Considering the more devastating potential for black women, however, many health professionals now recommend black women:

•    Perform self-examinations monthly, starting at age 20.
•    Have a clinical breast exam done by their doctor at least once a year
•    Have at least one mammogram between the ages of 30 and 35, then one every one to two years until age 50, when it should become an annual event.
•    If your mother or sister had breast cancer, you should consider having regular mammograms before the age of 30.

For more information about breast cancer, see the American Cancer Society publication Breast Cancer Facts & Figures, available online at cancer.org.

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