April 2013

Breast Cancer May Be More Deadly for Some Women

Breast cancer doesn't discriminate. Women of all ages, races, and ethnicities - men, too - can develop it. For some women, though - in particular, African-Americans - breast cancer can be more deadly. Many factors play a role in this disparity. Fortunately, by being proactive about breast health, women can help protect themselves from this disease.

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An arresting racial gap

The latest statistics show that fewer American women overall are dying from breast cancer. That's certainly good news. But African-American women aren't faring as well as other groups. They are more likely to die from breast cancer, even though white women are more often diagnosed with the disease. In fact, African-American women have a 78 percent chance of living five years after a breast cancer diagnosis compared with 90 percent for white women.

Why the difference? Part of the problem may be the severity of the cancer when it's diagnosed. African-American women are more likely to develop more aggressive kinds of breast cancer that are harder to treat. Experts aren't exactly sure why. In addition, African-American women are more often diagnosed with breast cancer that has already spread throughout the body. In one study, black women were 2.5 times more likely than white women to be diagnosed with a stage IV tumor - the most advanced type of breast cancer.

A late diagnosis may stem from missed screenings and delays in follow-up care. Some studies have found that African-American women are less likely to get a regular mammogram. Societal factors, such as limited access to medical care and lower levels of health literacy, may add to this discrepancy. African-American women are also more apt to postpone care after an abnormal mammogram screening. So they may not always receive the timeliest and most appropriate treatment.

Better breast health

Experts, including those at the National Cancer Institute, continue to work to eliminate health disparities related to breast cancer. You can do your part, too. All women, including African-Americans, can lower their risk of developing - and dying from - breast cancer. Follow these steps for better breast health:

  • Know your risk factors for breast cancer. For instance, drinking alcohol may increase your chances of developing the disease. So, too, can a family history. Steps such as avoiding alcohol, exercising regularly, and maintaining a healthy weight may help to reduce breast cancer risk.

  • Schedule regular breast screenings. Talk with your doctor about when you should start having a mammogram and how often. Also consider having your doctor perform a regular clinical breast exam.

  • Don't delay follow-up care if your mammogram isn't normal. Not all abnormal results mean cancer. But an earlier diagnosis can help you receive the treatment you need sooner.

  • Ask about all your treatment options if you are diagnosed with breast cancer. Talk with your doctor and a cancer specialist to determine the most appropriate care for you.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

 

What's your risk for developing breast cancer? Find out with this risk assessment. 

 

Online Resources

American Cancer Society - Cancer Facts and Figures for African-Americans, 2013-2014

National Cancer Institute - Breast Cancer

National Cancer Institute - Cancer Health Disparities

 

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