With proper screening and healthier living, Black women can improve their chances of surviving the form of cancer most likely to affect them.
Over the course of a lifetime, 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer.
Although the incidence of breast cancer is slightly lower among Black women than their white counterparts, the death rate among African-Americans is substantially higher, according to the American Cancer Society. Poor health care and unhealthy lifestyles account for much of the difference.
An estimated 26,840 new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed in Black women this year — by far, the leading form of cancer within that group — and 6,040 deaths are expected.
Among Black women who are diagnosed, recent statistics suggest that 78 percent will survive for at least five years; the corresponding survival rate among white women is 90 percent. In 2010, there were more than 2.5 million breast cancer survivors in the U.S.
Risk factors for breast cancer include age — as women get older they are more likely to develop more risks; family history — you may have a higher risk if you have a close relative who has had breast, uterine, ovarian or colon cancer; menstrual cycle — women who got their period early or went through menopause late (after age 55) have an increased risk for breast cancer; and alcohol use — drinking more than 1-2 glasses of alcohol a day may increase your risk for breast cancer, among other factors.
“A woman’s best overall preventive health strategy is to reduce her known risk factors as much as possible by avoiding weight gain and obesity (for postmenopausal breast cancer), engaging in regular physical activity and minimizing alcohol intake,” the American Cancer Society website advises.
However, a woman’s own health choices are not the only factor.
Preventative health measures, screening and treatment are critical. And these, in turn, often hinge on the quality and availability of medical care, adequate health insurance, literacy levels and other factors connected with socioeconomic status, the website points out.
“These factors disproportionately impact African Americans because, compared with 9 percent of whites, 25 percent of African Americans live below the federal poverty threshold,” the report states.
Early detection of breast cancer is key to survival.
Beginning in their early 20s, women should learn how to conduct breast self-examination. In their 20s and 30s, clinical breast examination should be a part of routine medical exams, at least every three years. From age 40 on, the American Cancer Society recommends annual mammograms.
Know your status, today.
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