Got a question for the doctor? Text it to “646464” (OHOHOH).

Dr. Dee McLeod’s deep loss is black women’s gain.

The cancer specialist with The Sacred Heart Cancer Center in Pensacola, Florida, lost her mother to breast cancer while McLeod was in medical training at Meharry Medical College.

McLeod’s personal loss drove her to promote education and awareness in the local community and she is involved in and an advocate for national clinical breast cancer trials.

She has got her work cut out for her.

Black women are less likely than white women to get breast cancer, but when they do they are more likely to die, especially women under 50 years of age.

Black women under the age of 50 have a 77 percent higher mortality rate from breast cancer than other women of the same age.

A study by scientists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill schools of Public Health and Medicine, and the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, found that younger, pre-menopausal black women are more prone to an especially aggressive type of cancer with a shorter survival rate.

Researchers are looking at a wide array of possible causes, from biology, to genetics ties, to environment in an effort to come up with successful drugs and treatment plans.

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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