Breast cancer is the most common cancer among Black women. The rate of breast cancer mortality is about 39% higher in Black women than in white women.
Black women are also more likely to have triple negative breast cancer than white women. In fact, about 21% of breast cancers in non-Hispanic Black women are triple negative, which is about double the proportion of this subtype in other racial/ethnic groups. Triple negative breast cancer does not have any of the receptors that are commonly found in breast cancer (estrogen receptors, progesterone receptors and the HER2 protein) even though the individual does, in fact, have breast cancer.
The higher breast cancer death rate in Black women in part reflects the disproportionate burden of triple negative breast cancers in this group.
A recent study sought differences in demographic and biological features of breast cancer at the time of diagnosis between Black and white women from three countries. The researchers found that “Black women were significantly more likely to present with less favorable tumor features at the time of diagnosis than white women. Significant differences were reported in age at diagnosis, tumor stage, size, grade and hormone status, particularly triple negative breast cancer.”
This is a problem.
According to The American Cancer Society, breast cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death among Black women. In one study breast cancer death rates between 2012–2016 were about . There are many possible reasons for this difference in survival rate, including:
- Differences in tumor biology and tumor genetics
- Prevalence of risk factors
- Barriers to quality health care access
- Health behaviors
- Later stage of breast cancer at diagnosis
While biology and genetics aren’t within an individual’s control, there are several ways to take proactive action to reduce risks associated with breast cancer.
Breast cancer screening
Make sure you get your mammograms.
According to the National Cancer Institute, a recent study suggests that screening Black women with mammograms every two years starting at age 40 reduces breast cancer mortality disparities.
Healthy lifestyle changes
There are many ways to shake up your routine to achieve a healthier overall lifestyle. Everyone can benefit from a healthy lifestyle. Making healthy choices can be physically and mentally rewarding at any point in life. Some healthy behaviors are linked to a lower risk of breast cancer recurrence and improved survival. Others are part of a lifestyle linked to a lower risk for other cancers and a lower risk of health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and osteoporosis.
- Maintaining a healthy weight: There is an increased risk of breast cancer if you are overweight or obese.
- Eating a healthy diet: High intake of certain vegetables may be linked to a lower risk of some breast cancers.
- Limiting alcohol: Drinking alcohol is known to increase the risk of several types of cancer. The American Cancer Society and the American Society of Clinical Oncology recommend cancer survivors limit alcohol intake to less than one drink a day for women and fewer than two drinks a day for men.
- Exercise: Studies show that a healthier prediagnosis lifestyle is associated with a decreased risk of breast cancer.
- Not smoking: Smoking is known to cause many types of cancer and other detrimental health conditions.
There are many organizations dedicated to researching, understanding, and ultimately curing breast cancer for Black women. Here are a few:
- Touch, The Black Breast Cancer Alliance
- Uncovering TNBC
- Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation
- Susan G. Komen
- American Cancer Society
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