Breast cancer is more deadly in African American women than in white women, but it doesn’t have to be. Over the next three weeks, we will bring you information that you can use to help rewrite the story of African Americans and breast cancer. We will explore why this issue is so important for our community, steps that each of us can take to improve our chances of survival and the resources that can help make a difference in your community.
It all starts with understanding the issues and why this discussion is so important. Did you know that:
1. Breast cancer is the most common cancer among African American women.
Don’t ignore the warning signs of this commonly diagnosed disease in our community. Too many breast cancers go undetected until it is too late. Ignoring the signs of breast cancer won’t make it go away. Early detection helps save lives.
2. Breast cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death among African American women, exceeded only by lung cancer.
Another common myth is that breast cancer is not a deadly cancer. Although breast cancer is the second most common cause of cancer deaths for African American women, it is a disease that can often be treated effectively when caught in time. However, African American women have a 78 percent five year relative survival rate. Again, early detection and effective treatment are key.
3. Older African American women tend to be diagnosed with breast cancer at lesser rates, but African American women are 41 percent more likely to die of breast cancer than white women.
There are many reasons that we face a higher death rate. Some of it we can control and some we can’t. Here’s what we know: breast cancers in African American women are more likely to have factors connected with poorer outcomes such as higher grade (how abnormal the tumor is and how likely it is to spread), later stage (stages can be 1-4 (4 means it’s spread to other parts of the body), and hormone receptor negative status (also known as triple negative breast cancer). African American women are more likely to be diagnosed triple negative breast cancer (TNBC), which is a particularly aggressive form of breast cancer.
Let’s take control of the pieces that we can change like knowing the warning signs and getting to the doctor sooner so that problems can be detected as early as possible. That way if cancer is found, there are more treatment options and a greater chance for survival.
4. Breast cancer strikes younger African American women at higher rates than white women.
Many of us have mistaken breast cancer as a disease for older women. That’s simply not true! Young women can get breast cancer too! In fact, African American women have higher rates of premenopausal breast cancer than white women. So, what can you do? If you are at average risk, Susan G. Komen for the Cure recommends that you have a clinical breast exam at least every 3 years starting at age 20, and every year starting at age 40. (How do you know if you’re at higher risk? Talk to your health care provider).
5. The higher death rate in African American women may be related to differences in access to health care, such as access to follow-up care after an abnormal mammogram, differences in reproductive factors and differences in tumor types.
If money or knowledge is an issue, Komen is here to help! We will explore resources available later in this series, but this link to a list of Komen resources can get you or your loved ones started.
6. Men can, and DO, develop breast cancer
Richard Roundtree (“Shaft”) is a breast cancer survivor. Breast cancer in men is rare – about 1 percent of breast cancers in the U.S. – but it can and does happen. We want the men in our lives to have the right information on this topic.
7. Yes, you are at risk for developing breast cancer even if you do not have a history of breast cancer in your family.
Most women with breast cancer do not have a family history of the disease. And, only about 5-10 percent of all breast cancers are due to inherited gene mutations. Although you may be at greater risk for developing breast cancer if you do have a family history, you are not excluded if you don’t. The two most common risk factors for breast cancer are being a woman and getting older – two things we can’t do anything about. It’s important to know the look and feel of your breasts and know these warning signs. AND, if you ever notice a change, be empowered to act and see your health care provider!
Understanding these seven facts can help you and those around you make good sound decisions about your health, however, this is just the beginning. Don’t stop here!
• Visit BlackAmericaWeb.com next week to learn about personal steps that you can take to make a difference in your life and the lives of your loved ones.
• Take the Quiz! Continue to increase your understanding about breast cancer by finding out if you know the truth.
• Keep reading. Click here for your complete guide to Understanding Breast Cancer
• Sign up to receive a mammogram or clinical breast exam reminder at komen.org/reminder