By: Catherine Yeh for Uterus1
According to the American Cancer Society (2006), early detection tests for breast cancer save thousands of lives each year. Even more lives could be saved if greater numbers of women and health care providers took advantage of these tests – especially in the case of minority women.
Women aged 40 and older should have a screening mammogram every year.
Between the ages of 20 and 39, women should have a clinical breast examination by a health professional every three years. After age 40, women should have a breast exam by a health professional every year.
Women aged 20 or older should perform a breast self-examination (BSE) every month. If you notice a change, see your health care provider as soon as possible for evaluation. Keep in mind that not all breast changes signal cancer.
If you would like more information on the “Sister to Sister” program which aims to reduce the burden of cancer among minority women, or other breast cancer information, please visit the American Cancer Society website or call them at 1.800.ACS.2345.
African American women are 28 percent more likely than Caucasian women to die from breast cancer. The five-year survival rate for African American women is 69 percent, as compared to 85 percent for Caucasian women. The reason for this disturbing contrast is that African American women often have a later diagnosis. Past research that focused on low-income African American women showed these results.
In 2003, The Journal of the National Medical Association studied low-income African American women. Those 65 and older often underestimated their susceptibility to breast cancer, and those 85 and older were least likely to screen for the disease through mammograms or breast exams. This study also revealed that among the low-income African American women, those who are most at risk for breast cancer have the least knowledge of the disease. Negative attitudes about mammography among this community may be to blame.
“We know that even though African-American women are less likely than white women to get breast cancer, they die of it more frequently. Anything we can do to help increase early detection would be helpful,” says Dr. Electra Paskett, a member of The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center. Dr. Paskett also directed the ROSE Project, a research study which examined mammography screening rates among low-income minority women in rural areas. The study found that women do not get regular mammography check ups because of cost and lack of insurance coverage.
Despite community-based outreach programs such as the Los Angeles Mammography Project, designed to increase knowledge and encourage mammography free of cost, other studies show that low-income African American women feel embarrassed or believe that a mammogram is unnecessary – especially if they do not have symptoms (Journal of National Medical Association, 2000).
It is important to overcome these barriers in order to decrease the high mortality rates of this disease among African American women in the United States. The American Cancer Society (2006) has provided a few statistics that may aide in encouraging minorities to get screened:The American Cancer Society estimates that 19,240 African American women will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year alone.
Early stage breast cancer often has no symptoms, but the tumor is small and very treatable. It is important for women to follow the guidelines for finding breast cancer before symptoms develop.
Mammograms are a very effective way to detect breast cancers. On average, they detect 80-90 percent of breast cancers in women without symptoms.
Testing is more accurate in postmenopausal women, but yearly screening is recommended for all women over age 40.
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