In 2001, Vanessa McCaskill joined the ranks of millions of African-American women diagnosed with breast cancer.

“I was only 36-years-old. To hear the word ‘cancer,’ it was unreal,” said Ms. McCaskill.

Statistics show that black women are less likely than whites to get breast cancer, but when they do, they’re younger, the cancer’s more aggressive and the women less likely to survive. For years, doctors have assessed a woman’s breast cancer risk using a model developed in 1989. The problem is, that model was based on data gathered solely from white women.

Dr. Lisa Newman has conducted research on breast cancer patients in Ghana, working to learn why cancers are so different.

Dr. Lisa Newman from the University of Michigan said, “African ancestry, in and of itself, might be associated with a genetic predisposition for developing very aggressive forms of breast cancer.”

In the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, the study introduces a revised risk assessment model based on updated science. The goal? To encourage more black women to participate in clinical trials and offer them opportunities for earlier interventions they may have missed before. Early detection was key for Vanessa, and she’s thankful for every one of the last six cancer-free years.

Early detection is essential to surviving breast cancer. Some doctors think that black women who have a family history of early-onset breast cancer should consider getting a mammogram before the age of 40.