According to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control, black women have a 40% higher breast cancer mortality rate than white women. They also have a higher risk of developing breast cancer and dying from it due to a lack of education and access to necessary care.
Hence, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which takes place in October, seeks to enlighten women about breast cancer and the preventative measures available to those with the disease.
In honor of this year’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month, this article provides a brief overview of what Black women should know about breast cancer and how to reduce their risk.
What Causes Breast Cancer in Black Women?
In the United States, breast cancer affects more women than any other type of cancer and is one of the leading cancer-related deaths alongside lung and bronchus cancer.
Breast cancer is prevalent in black women, as a black woman has a greater chance of developing breast cancer before age 40. According to Judith Hurley, MD, a medical oncologist, and breast cancer specialist at the University of Miami, there is also no clear explanation for why black women develop breast cancer because these causes are complex and multifactorial. The causes of cancer in black women, however, include the following:
Inherited Gene Mutations:
Often, black women have a family history of breast cancer patients (or survivors) unknown to them. Thus, a keen knowledge of one’s family health history is key to being breast cancer aware.
Black women with dense breasts are at a higher risk of developing breast cancer as they have more fibrous and glandular tissue with less fatty tissue compared to women who don’t have dense breasts. Doctors may overlook breast cancer in a mammogram due to the similarity between cancer tissue and dense breasts.
Unhealthy Lifestyle Choice:
Black women who are overweight, smokers, alcoholics, and eat unhealthily are at a high risk of developing breast cancer.
What are the Obvious Signs of Breast Cancer in a Black Woman?
The World Health Organization (WHO) states that a painless, palpable mass (lump) on the breast is the most typical and obvious sign of breast cancer. Black women are advised to self-examine and see a doctor if they find this breast abnormality.
Other obvious signs of breast cancer in black women include:
- A change in the size, shape, or appearance of a breast.
- Breast swelling, redness, and dimples.
- Atypical nipple discharge.
Why do Black Women Have Higher Breast Cancer Mortality Rates?
According to data from the American Cancer Society, black women have the highest mortality rate among all racial groups. Additionally, triple-negative breast cancer affects 1 in 5 black women.
Black women lead a different lifestyle than women of other races, so there isn’t a single explanation that applies to all of these statistics. Thus, the following apparent causes of the higher breast cancer mortality rates among black women are:
- They lack proper access to quality healthcare compared to white women.
- Black women have higher chances of developing more aggressive forms of breast cancer.
- They have an inherited family history of breast cancer development.
Breast Cancer Awareness Month: What Every Black Woman Should Know
- Breast Cancer Myths Akin to Black Women
Over the years, black women have consumed false information about breast cancer. These myths have damning consequences if not checked, and this article highlights some common myths and the facts about them.
Myth: Only older black women over 40 are at risk of death from Breast Cancer.
Fact: This is entirely untrue. According to a study by the American Cancer Society, there is no cancer-proof age for black women; they are more likely to die from breast cancer at any age.
Myth: Breast cancer is caused by wearing a bra.
Fact: There is currently no convincing scientific evidence linking bra use to breast cancer. The Cancer Council states that there are allegations, but no concrete proof, that underwire bras restrict lymph flow and cause breast cancer.
Myth: Consuming a lot of sugar leads to breast cancer.
Fact: There is no proof that sugar causes breast cancer. Sugar is not a cause of breast cancer, despite having a high caloric content and the potential to result in unhealthy weight gain if consumed in large amounts.
Myth: A breast cancer survivor cannot relapse with the disease or another type of cancer after a cure.
Fact: Although it doesn’t happen in every instance, breast cancer survivors are likely to get another type of cancer or even the same old “breast cancer.” LiveStrong estimates that one in three people will likely relapse with cancer. The Susan G. Komen® organization also warns that women with early-stage breast cancer are at risk of developing the disease again within the first five years of treatment.
- Is Breast Cancer Preventable and Curable?
While there is no known natural treatment for breast cancer, there are medical procedures that can remove, shrink, or otherwise control the microscopic cancer that has spread from the breast tumor through the blood. Treatment options for breast cancer include radiation therapy, lumpectomies, mastectomies, hormone therapy, chemotherapy, and targeted biological therapy.
The following techniques also help reduce the risk of developing breast cancer in Black women:
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle by actively exercising, eating healthy meals, and maintaining balanced body weight.
- Avoid alcohol and smoking.
- Know your family history and discuss it with your doctor.
- Lactating black mothers should continue to do so. Breastfeeding helps limit the chances of developing breast cancer.
- Avoid menopausal hormone therapy.
- Do frequent mammogram screenings.
Although no single universal treatment is effective for all breast cancer patients, breast cancer treatments are highly effective when the disease is detected early. This Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we urge every black woman to be familiar with her breasts and inform her doctor of any abnormal findings.
In a nutshell, Happy Breast Cancer Awareness Month to all Black Women.