October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Know Your Risk for Breast Cancer

“On Wednesdays we wear pink!” October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Breast cancer affects more women than any other type of cancer and is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths among women.

Here are some important statistics to keep in mind…

  • A US woman’s lifetime risk of breast cancer is 1 in 8.
  • Breast cancer has the highest mortality rate of any cancer in women between the ages of 20 and 59.
  • African American women have a 31% breast cancer mortality rate – the highest of any U.S. racial or ethnic group.
  • Among women younger than 45, breast cancer incidence is higher among African American women than White women.
  • Younger women in general, and younger African American women in particular, are more likely to present with the triple negative subtype of the disease, a subtype that is both more aggressive and associated with a higher mortality.
  • African American women face both disproportionate exposure to breast carcinogens and the highest risk of serious health impacts from the disease. Over the past 20 years, despite the universal drop in mortality rates, we have seen a rise in the incidence of breast cancer in African American women. In particular, disparities between mortality rates for white and black women have grown significantly. The mortality rate for Black women diagnosed with breast cancer is 42% higher than the comparable rate for White women. Triple negative breast cancer is diagnosed more often in American women of African descent than in those of European descent in the United States. 

But we can change that through recognition, awareness and action. Here are some other statistics for women of color.

  1. Black women are not taking action. While 92% of black women agree breast health is important, only 25% have recently discussed breast health with their family, friends, or colleagues. And, only 17% have taken steps to understand their risk for breast cancer.
  2. Black Women are often at a more advanced stage upon detection.
  3. Black women may not have access to health care or health insurance so may have lower frequency of longer intervals between mammograms.
  4. Because they may not have insurance, Black women may not follow up on abnormal mammogram results because they can’t afford the diagnostic testing.

A recent study by American Cancer Society researchers found that lack of private/Medicare insurance and unfavorable tumor characteristics were the most important factors contributing to the higher risk of death among black breast cancer patients under age 65 with early-stage disease, explaining one-third and one-fifth of the disparity, respectively.

Detection is key and that starts with regular self breast examination

Monthly Self Breast Exams

  • Women 20 years and older should perform self breast exams monthly. Should be performed one week after your period.

Clinical Breast Exams

  • Women 20-39 years old should have a clinical breast exam at least every 2-3 years. If there is a significant family history , a breast exam should be performed yearly. Women aged 40 and above should have a clinical breast exam yearly.

Mammograms

  • Women aged 40 and older should have a yearly mammogram. If you have a mother or sister with breast cancer you may need a mammogram earlier than 40. Ask your healthcare professional.

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