Did you know that October is Breast Cancer Awareness month? Well it is. Also in 1993, President Bill Clinton proclaimed the third Friday in October each year to be National Mammography Day. Throughout the month of October, women are encouraged to make appointments for their mammogram.
Knowing the above, I would like to focus on the African American woman. You see, an article published in Breast Cancer Prevention Partners reported that African American women have the highest rate of mortality from breast cancer.
Let us look at some pertinent facts:
- US women as a whole, have a 1 in 8 risk for breast cancer.
- Breast cancer has the highest mortality rate of any cancer in women between the ages of 20 and 59.
- Breast cancer incidence among women younger than 45, is higher among African American women than Caucasian women.
- Research shows that while white women are more likely to get breast cancer than any other race, the mortality rate for African American women is 30% to 40% higher.
- African American women are also more likely to get cancer earlier in life and twice as likely to be diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer.
So what can you do as an African American woman to decrease your risks of serious complications and death from breast cancer? I will review three areas for awareness.
Signs of Breast Cancer
You really need to know your body, specifically your breasts. These are some of the signs of breast cancer.
- Swollen lymph nodes or bumps under your arm or around your collarbone
- Abnormal swelling of any part of your breast
- Dimpling of the skin of the breast where the skin appears to have an indentation appearance
- Breast nipple pain or retraction of the nipple
- Redness or scaliness of the nipple or skin of the breast
- Discharge from the nipple
Well how would you find these abnormalities of the breast? A regular breast exam is the way. A breast exam routine should begin at your first PAP exam, recommended at around age 20 to 21. The person who does the PAP should be able to teach and instruct you on how to do a complete exam.
The Breast Exam
A good breast exam would have you lying down usually with the arm of the breast being examined comfortably over your head. Using the pads of the three middle fingers of the opposite hand, (do not use your fingertips), firmly press on the breast feeling all the tissue from your collarbone to the bottom of your bra line and from the armpit to your breastbone. Remember that a large portion of your breast is under your arm, so take a little extra time examining this area. At the end of the exam squeezing the nipple is the final important act to see if any pain or discharge is noted. If you are more comfortable doing this exam in your shower, you can follow the same technique, standing and lathered up.
You should do this exam around the same time each month, approximately one week after your period. You probably will not feel or find any lumps, bumps or indentations. This is a normal exam. You are becoming familiar with your body. However, if one day you happen to see or feel something that was not there the month before, that is the time to follow up with your Primary Care Provider.
Mammograms are the preferred method of finding breast cancer. Your clinician may order an ultrasound to see if a breast mass is solid or a cyst. Ultrasound of the breast is not usually done to screen for breast cancer because it may miss some early signs of a cancer.
For early detection of breast cancer, the American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends women ages 40 to 44 should have the choice to start annual breast cancer screening with mammograms. If a patient in my practice has a family history of breast cancer, meaning her mother or grandmother had breast cancer, then I begin screening at age 35. The ACS then recommends women 45 to 54 should get their mammograms every year. Women 55 and older should get their mammograms every 2 years. Finally, women with no history of breast cancer with negative mammograms can stop having these examinations at age 75.
So there you have it. It’s your body given by God to keep healthy. Take care of it, and may you have a long life!