Women and men of color are standing up against violence, social and economic disparity, and unequal treatment under the law. But breast cancer is also a real and persistent threat to the black community.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in African American women. The five-year survival rate for white women with breast cancer is 91 percent. For women of color, the survival rate drops to 80 percent. The most sobering statistic is that black women are 40 percent more likely than white women to die from breast cancer.
What is going on?
Here are a few reasons for the different medical outcomes between black women and white women affected by breast cancer.
1. The urgency to understand breast cancer risks may not be as readily available to women of color. Without the realization that it is a serious threat, breast cancer in black women is often caught at a more advanced stage than it is in white women.
2. Insufficient access to prompt, high quality healthcare and/or a lack of health insurance may mean fewer mammograms and inadequate follow-up with diagnostic testing when compared to white women.
3. Black women are twice as likely to get aggressive Triple Negative Breast Cancer (TNBC). It is the type of cancer that often comes back. It has the highest mortality rate among breast cancers. The reason for this disparity is not yet completely understood.
Here are five strategies that may help you avoid becoming a statistic:
1. Early Detection
Early detection is especially important for black women who are more susceptible to the deadly TNBC. Get regular mammograms! They may save your life. Find out about your family health history with breast cancer to determine if you are at greater risk. If a family member has had breast cancer, you may need to supplement a mammogram with a breast MRI.
Examine your breasts – not just for lumps, but to watch for changes in how they look and feel. Be aware of nipple discharge, inflammation, or dimpling. If something is different than normal, call your doctor or Albie Aware right away! Need help to pay for testing? Call Albie Aware!
2. Diet and Exercise
It is hard to change the habits of a lifetime, but it is even harder to endure breast cancer. Weight is a known factor for increasing your risk of the disease. This is the same for all women and men regardless of race. Fried foods, starchy vegetables, saturated and trans fats, processed meats (bacon, hot dogs, etc.), and sugar all contribute to weight gain. Women who are heavier have higher estrogen levels, a known breast cancer risk factor. And a body mass index greater than normal for your height and weight increases your chances of getting the diagnosis that you do not want.
Diet alone is not enough. Exercise, even if it is just walking, is essential for maintaining weight. Studies show that physical activity also regulates estrogen levels. You
don’t have to train for the Olympics. Doing anything is better than sitting, so take the stairs instead of the elevator. Get out and work in the garden. Go dancing!
3. Smoking and Alcohol
Smoking – You know smoking is bad for you – and breathing other people’s smoke is just as bad. Women who start smoking at an early age double their odds of getting breast cancer. Smoking also interferes with breast cancer treatment by damaging the lungs during radiation, increasing the risk of blood clots while on hormone therapy, and hindering healing after surgery.
Alcohol – Three drinks per week can increase your risk of getting hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer. Plus, alcohol may damage cell DNA while increasing estrogen levels. You don’t have to give up alcohol, just limit your intake.
4. Become Aware
An incredible amount of breast cancer information is out there, but you have to take the time to find it. At the end of this article are just a very few websites. There are probably hundreds more. Most are for women (and men who also can get breast cancer) in general, regardless of race, but there are many resources specifically for black women.
5. Ask for Help
Dealing with a diagnosis? Reach out to programs such as Albie Aware for help. Albie Aware serves the Sacramento area. They can guide you, advocate for you, and even offer financial assistance for diagnostic testing, including mammograms.
Black Lives Matter
Please do all you can to minimize your risk of getting breast cancer. YOU matter!