8 Facts African-American Women Need to Know about Breast Cancer

Black History Month serves as a time to pay tribute to generations of African-Americans who struggled with adversity and made significant accomplishments to move society forward.  It is also often a time when we examine how a variety of issues affect African-Americans. Here are 8 facts that every African-American woman should know about breast cancer:

1. Breast cancer is the most common cancer among African-American women.

While white women overall have a higher incidence (new cases) rate than African-American women – meaning they are more likely to develop it – breast cancer is the most common cancer among African-American women. More than 30,000 new cases of breast cancer are expected to occur among African-American women in the U.S. this year alone.

2.  African-American women are more likely to die from breast cancer than white women.

While African-American women are less likely to develop breast cancer overall, they are about 40 percent more likely to die from the disease than white women. There are a variety of reasons for this disparity.  African-American women are more likely to be diagnosed younger, at a later stage with a more aggressive form of the disease, and face barriers to high-quality health care.

3.People can develop breast cancer even if it doesn’t run in the family history.

While a family history of breast cancer does increase a person’s risk, most women who get breast cancer don’t have a family history or a BRCA1/2 gene mutation.  In fact, only about 13 percent of women with breast cancer have a close relative (mother, sister or daughter) with breast cancer. Family history and gene mutations increase the risk of breast cancer, but they are just one piece of the puzzle. All women are at risk.

4. You may have breast cancer even if you don’t feel a lump in your breast.

Most people know that a lump in the breast may be a sign of breast cancer, but there are seven other warning signs you need to know about! And did you know that six of the eight warning signs are visual changes that can’t be felt?

5.  African-American women are more likely than white women to have triple negative breast cancers.

Breast cancer is not one disease, but rather a family of diseases.  African-American women are more likely than white women to have a form of the disease known as triple negative breast cancer.  These tumors have certain traits that make them harder to treat because they can’t be treated with hormone therapy or targeted therapies.  They also tend to be more aggressive, which means they may grow or spread faster than other types of tumors.  They can be treated successfully though with some combination of surgery, radiation therapyand chemotherapy, but it’s extra important to find them and treat them as early as possible.

6.The chances of surviving breast cancer can vary depending on where you live.

Sadly, this is true today – particularly for African-American women.  African-American women on average are 40 percent more likely to die from the disease than their white counterparts.  In some communities this disparity can be as high as 70 percent!  While some of the difference is genetic, some is due to a lack of access to affordable, timely high-quality care.

7. A person can do everything “right” and still get breast cancer.

A person can do everything “right” and still get breast cancer. Exercising and eating healthy can reduce your risk, but it doesn’t eliminate it. There is no one behavior that will prevent breast cancer.  However, being physically active, maintaining a healthy weight, limiting alcohol and breastfeeding if you can, are all good for your overall health and reducing the risk of breast cancer.

8.  There are things we can do to take charge of our breast health.

There are no guarantees against breast cancer, but there are ways to reduce your risk. Getting exercise and minimizing alcohol are a great start. For new, soon-to-be, and some-day moms, breastfeeding can also reduce your risk. People at higher risk may also be able to take medication or even have surgery to reduce their risk. And we can increase our chances of surviving breast cancer if we catch any problems early and get effective treatment early. That means understanding our risk, getting regular screening and getting checked out if we ever notice a change in our breasts.

If you want to talk to someone in person, call our breast care helpline at 1-877 GO KOMEN (1-877- 465-6636). A trained and caring staff member is here to assist you Monday through Friday from 9:00am-10:00pm ET.

Interested in reading more? Read recent articles on The Komen Connection.