Deaths from breast cancer are decreasing for women of all races except African-American women — with a mortality rate of 33.8 percent, compared to 25 percent among white women. This, despite the fact that among all ages, white women have breast cancer more than black women.
Under the age of 45, black women have breast cancer more than white women, and the cancer is usually more aggressive.
Experts believe African-American women are not getting mammograms enough, so the cancer is at a worse stage when detected, thus harder to treat.
Black women are also more likely to have triple-negative breast cancer, a type of breast cancer that does not respond to common treatments.
This year, 26,840 African-American women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in the United States and 6,040 will die.
HOW IT KILLS
Breast cancer can start in different parts of the breast. The most common type begins in the milk ducts. Less commonly, cancer can begin in the glands or in the soft, fatty tissue of the breast.
The cancer can spread to the rest of the body through the lymphatic system which is made up of lymph nodes — the glands that enlarge during a cold virus or other infection — and lymphatic vessels. When the cancer has traveled and made it to the lymph nodes, it raises concern that the cancer has traveled through the blood to other areas. This, by definition, makes the cancer more advanced and requires additional treatments.
Bone, lung, liver and brain are the common places that breast cancer can spread to if not caught early. The cancer then grows in those organs until the organs can no longer function normally.
The gap recently began to narrow between the number of black women getting mammograms compared to white women. In late 2009, a government task force released their opinion that women under the age of 50 no longer needed routine mammograms based on research that showed no benefit.
There has been a reported decline in the number of mammograms since that announcement. It is unclear whether this will result in an increase in undiagnosed breast cancer or if it reduced the number of mammograms performed unnecessarily.
theGRIO: It’s too risky to wait for breast cancer screening
HOW WE CAN OVERCOME IT
Things that increase the risk of breast cancer:
- Family history
- Drinking alcohol — more than one drink a day raises your risk.
- Being overweight or obese
- Environmental pollution
- Long-term combination hormone therapy for menopausal symptoms — discuss the option of short-term versus alternatives. Birth control pills do not increase risk.
Things shown to prevent breast cancer:
- Physical activity
- Balanced diet with fruits and vegetables
- Breast feed
Get diagnosed early:
- Self-breast exams are now controversial, warning that it increases unnecessary anxiety and procedures. Talk with your doctor about whether to continue.
- Have mammograms starting at age 50, consider having them younger depending on your risk factors.
- Discuss your family history with your doctor.
WHAT OTHERS ARE DOING TO KEEP US HEALTHY
Seven female broadcasters have teamed up this month to launch “Queens of Keeping It Real,” a national campaign to dispel myths about breast cancer and African-American women, encourage screening and increase awareness.
Findings from a study of over 30,000 women supports that taking omega-3 fatty acids or fish oil decrease the risk of breast cancer by 32 percent. Previous studies showed no association between breast cancer risk and consuming omega-3 through food, but the limitation was that U.S. women do not eat a large amount of fish. Dr. White, one of the researchers, says their findings need to be confirmed in a follow-up study but the evidence is promising.
Researchers are also investigating the use of tamoxifen, a drug used to treat breast cancer as a means to prevent it. The study found a benefit in women under 55 who have already reached menopause. There are risks involved with the treatment, but Dr. Joyce Noah-Vanhoucke and her team found that the benefits outweighed the risk in this particular group. She adds that tamoxifen is relatively affordable with a year’s worth of the medicine costing about $200.