Why A Mammogram Should Be at the Top of Your 2022 To-Do List
New Years prep should also include appointments for all the tests, sis.
There’s so much good news about breast cancer survival. There’s a celebratory month of pink, breakthrough treatments, endless research, steady trials, improved screening and flush funding. As a result, women who develop breast cancer are having better outcomes, right?
All of these statements are true but not for Black women. It’s not widely publicized, but sisters are losing in the breast cancer war. We are disproportionately dying younger and with more aggressive forms of breast cancer. So if you think you can blow off a mammogram, especially if you’re Black, you’re treading on thin ice. And honestly, you should start mammos younger than you probably thought.
The first experience I had with a young person getting breast cancer was with a close friend. She was only 29, Black, and had no family history. As the years passed I found it heartbreaking each time I heard other stories about friends or people who knew people of color with breast cancer who were younger than 40 — also without family histories in most cases — dying in short order from aggressive forms.
I’d think to myself, how are women supposed to catch this is cancer early if screening guidelines suggest starting at age 45 or 50 (unless you have a qualifying risk factor)? These guideline recommendations also factor into insurance coverage, too. This CDC chart shows the guidelines are, in fact, not uniform.
Here are a few stats to consider as to why there’s an urgent need for Black women to be proactive about their breast health:
It’s not well-known, but Black women have higher incidence of genetic mutations including BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 (the genes most commonly affected in hereditary breast and ovarian cancer).
· Black women have higher death rates from breast cancer than women of other races.
· Black women have a nearly two-fold increase of triple-negative breast cancers, which are highly lethal.
· The Journal of Cancer recently reported that minority women are 72% more likely to be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer under the age of 50, 58% more likely to have advanced breast cancer when diagnosed, and 127% more likely to die under age 50 compared with White women.
These are reasons some researchers are sounding the alarm for Black women to have a breast cancer assessment by age 30. They hope this will give Black women a better shot at early detection and intervention.
“Waiting until 45 or 50 is not good for any woman, but it’s a disaster for women of color and especially for black women,” says study author Debra Monticciolo, MD, the vice chair of the department of radiology and section chief of breast imaging at Baylor Scott and White Medical Centre in Texas.
Identifying risk through genetic counseling and testing is key. Unfortunately, even high-risk Black women are disproportionately not offered these options compared with White ones. Follow-up care is the next, critical piece. While testing is essential to detection, it’s ultimately the follow-up care that will improve outcomes.
Many of us put a lot of things on hold during the Covid-19 pandemic, including checking off the annual mammograms. I was guilty of this, too. Post-Covid trends show this delay has resulted in more patients coming in with later-staged breast cancers.
That said, while disparities in care for Black women won’t be solved overnight, it’s important to talk to your doctor about genetic testing and risk evaluation, get your mammograms, and don’t be afraid to strongly speak up about your options, including participating in clinical trials. All of these actions could save your life.