Joining Forces for Breast Health

Joining Forces for Breast Health

We’re fighting breast cancer in minorities with the American Cancer Society and Susan G. Komen for the Cure.  Find out how we’re filling the information gap.

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and women of color should know about breast cancer every month. But awareness alone, is not enough: This monthly column will always focus on both, for empowerment. 

Although breast cancer occurs in 1 out of 8 women, it can often be cured without breast removal if found and treated early. African American women have the highest death rate from breast cancer. Many of these deaths are preventable. Too many women of color who develop breast cancer do not see a doctor at once because of fear of losing a breast, or looking different. With early diagnosis and treatment physical appearance is often not a problem, and many complications can be avoided.
   Good News:

1. If breast cancer is found and treated early, 9 out of 10 women can be cured. Men get breast cancer, too, but it’s less than 1%.
2. Although there are no simple ways to prevent breast cancer, women can do a lot to increase early diagnosis and treatment. Remember, although prevention is always better than a cure, early disease detection is the next best thing. 

Key Risks Women Can Avoid or Control

–    First pregnancy after age 30
–    Having used oral birth control pills (for some)
–    Hormone treatment after menopause
–    Drinking alcohol heavily
–    Being overweight or obese
–    Not having enough physical activity

By the way, physical activity is also good for preventing and treating diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure (hypertension), and heart disease. 

How to Detect Breast Cancer Early

Women should know key signs and symptoms of possible breast cancer and if they observe any of them, see their doctor at once. If they don’t have a regular doctor, they should go to a community health center or hospital. Here are the key signals: 

– A breast lump or thickening that feels different from the surrounding tissue, however, a lump often doesn’t mean cancer.
– Bloody discharge from the nipple
– Change in the size or shape of a breast
– Changes in the skin over the breast, like redness or dimpling 
– Peeling, scaling, redness or flaking of the nipple, or skin
– Inverted nipple.

Although most breast changes don’t turn out to be cancer, women should still see a doctor for any of the signals above. 


Recommended Screening Tests for Early Breast Cancer Detection

Screening tests before women develop signs of breast cancer often result in earlier diagnosis and treatment, and thus a much greater chance of cure.

The three most important screening tests are:

(1) breast self – examination at the same time every month,

(2) a mammogram  (x-ray of the breast) and

(3) clinical breast examination – by a physician or other skilled health professional .

Specific Recommendations: 

The American Cancer Society, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, and Health Power for Minorities (Health Power) all recommend that women 20 to 39 have a mammogram every 3 years, and starting at age 40, every year.  In addition, starting at age 40, women should have a clinical breast examination every year.

Don’t Let Access to Care Issues Stand in the Way

Unfortunately, many minority women don’t have health insurance and therefore, don’t get proper care. Efforts to repeal the federal health reform act that passed last year would make matters a lot worse., which is why they should be actively opposed. Even many minority women who have health insurance, including Medicaid and Medicare, don’t get the preventive care, or treatment, they need. Don’t be caught short with unnecessary illness and early death. 

Although access to care is clearly a challenge for some, it should not stand in the way of breast cancer screening and early detection. Think of it this way: Respect Yourself and Protect Yourself. And, if you don’t want to do it for yourself, do it for those who love you!

Click here []for much more information related to breast cancer and breast health.