October Is For Breast Cancer
Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among black women. And although the rate of new cases each year is slightly lower among black women than white women, studies have shown that breast cancer mortality is higher in African-American women. These figures only serve to further advocate the need for regular breast cancer screenings in black women across the United States. Despite the fact that 69% of African-American women have received a mammogram in the past two years, which is the highest rate among any race in the country, this ratio could and should be much higher. This October during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, share this important information with the women in your life. Be on the lookout for early onset symptoms and take note of what you can do in your everyday life to ensure your long-term health.
What are the Symptoms of Breast Cancer?
In the case of breast cancer, as with many conditions, there are very few obvious or physical signs or symptoms in the early stages, which makes regular visits to your physician for screenings and testing so much more important. The following are a list of some of the most common symptoms black women have identified as the early signs of breast cancer:
- Pain or swelling of the breast
- Dimples or irritation of the skin
- Redness of the nipple or skin of the breast
- Pain of the nipple
- Discharge from the nipple (other than milk)
Why is Breast Cancer Commonly Misdiagnosed?
Even women who receive yearly mammograms and regular examinations that return normal results should be aware that there is still a chance that breast cancer can be present. Studies have shown that breast cancer is one of the most commonly misdiagnosed diseases. There are several ways that tests can be misread or your physician can make a mistake when evaluating you. For one, radiologists can incorrectly interpret mammogram scans, resulting in either a false-positive reading, in which doctors read the scan as cancer but are later proven wrong, or a false-negative test, where doctors cannot detect a tumor from the image. Additionally, if a doctor chooses to conduct a biopsy and analyze breast tissue, there can be the risk of undertreatment or too-aggressive treatments.
How Can Black Women Reduce Their Risk?
There is no guarantee that a woman can effectively prevent breast cancer. However, with some best practices and preventative measures, you can dramatically reduce your risk. Here are some of the attributes that all women can adhere to in order to ensure long-term health and wellbeing.
- Pregnancy and Breastfeeding: Black women who become pregnant at least once tend to have a lower rate of breast cancer. With each additional pregnancy, the chance of being diagnosed drops. Breastfeeding has also been linked to a lower risk of the disease.
- Breast Cancer Screenings: As previously discussed, especially if you are at an increased risk of breast cancer, being regularly screened is essential. It is recommended that you receive annual mammograms if you are over the age of 40.
- Surgery: Some women who have a heightened risk of breast cancer may choose to have their breasts reduced through a prophylactic mastectomy. Removal of the ovaries may also decrease the risk of breast cancer by reducing the amount of estrogen in the body. Evidently, these are both very serious surgeries and should be discussed at length with multiple physicians prior to making a decision.
- Healthy Lifestyle: Maintaining a healthy diet and weight is important to preventing breast cancer as well as other serious health issues. Additionally, avoiding smoking and limiting your alcohol consumption can reduce your risk.
This October, make it a point to discuss the risks of breast cancer with the important women in your life and make regular check-ups with your physician. The earlier breast cancer is detected, the higher the survival rate. Not only should you get annual mammograms over the age of 40, but routinely do self-breast exams to look for lumps or anything that feels unusual. Don’t hesitate to consult with your doctor whenever you have questions or concerns. Together, we can put a stop to the spread of breast cancer.