More Black Women Die From Breast Cancer Than Any Other Cancer
For decades, lung cancer has been the leading cause of death from cancer for both Black and White men and women. But as of 2019, breast cancer became the leading cause of cancer death for Black women.
This shift is because of steep declines in the number of lung cancer deaths in recent years due to reductions in smoking, earlier diagnosis, and advances in treatment. Although the breast cancer death rate is also falling steadily , the number of breast cancer deaths continues to rise because of the aging and growth of the population.
These are some of the key findings in Cancer Facts & Figures for African American/Black People 2022-2024, the consumer-friendly companion of the study Cancer Statistics for African American/Black People, 2022, published in the American Cancer Society journal CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. ACS researchers, including Angela Giquinto, MSPH, and Rebecca Siegel, MPH, update these publications every 2 to 3 years to keep tabs on progress and monitor inequalities in new cancer cases , deaths, survival, screening, and risk factors.
The Black population is the third largest racial/ethnic group in the United States . It includes African Americans, whose ancestors were brought to the US involuntarily as slaves Caribbean Americans and recent immigrants of African descent. As a whole, Black people are more likely to die from most cancers and to live the shortest amount of time after a cancer diagnosis than any other racial/ethnic group.
When Should I Call My Doctor If I Am Concerned About Inflammatory Breast Cancer
Contact your healthcare provider immediately if you notice any changes to your breast, even if you dont feel a lump. With further testing, your provider can determine whether IBC may be a concern.
Contact your provider if youre taking antibiotics for a breast infection especially if you have the symptoms of IBC and your symptoms dont improve within a week.
Effect On Black Women
Some studies have found that the number of new breast cancer cases per year is lower in Black populations than in White populations, while others have shown that the numbers are about equal. No matter the case, the mortality rates for Black women far exceed those for White women.
According to the CDC, from 2005-2009 Black women had a 41% higher breast cancer death rate and were more likely to be diagnosed at regional or distant cancer stages compared to White women .
The burden of breast cancer in Black communities exists at each phase in the complex breast cancer care trajectoryfrom screening and follow-up of abnormal findings, to treatment initiation and completion. These disparities are fueled and compounded by the racial wealth gap, which leads to frustrating delays in receipt of diagnosis and treatment.
Patient delay is a term used to describe the time that elapses from symptom development or self-detection to medical consultation, whereas system delay describes the time that elapses from consultation to diagnosis.
The few studies that have assessed the racial disparities in breast cancer diagnosis only looked at system delayswhich means that delays in the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer in Black communities are underreported.
Black women are more likely to have more aggressive, treatment-resistant forms of breast cancer like triple-negative and inflammatory breast cancer .
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Racial And Ethnic Disparities In Breast Cancer
Asian-Americans who have recently immigrated to the U.S. show lower rates of breast cancer than those who have lived in the U.S. for many years. However, for Asian American women born in the U.S., the risk is about the same as that of White women . The breast cancer 5-year relative survival rate has increased significantly for both Black and white Women in the last 40 years. Still, substantial racial gap remains. A 5-year survival rate was observed to be 81% for Black women and 92% for White women in recent years .
Chinese and Japanese women have the highest breast cancer survival rates whereas Black women have the lowest survival rate of any racial or ethnic group . Overall, breast cancer mortality rate is still higher among Black women compared to White women and other ethnic groups . The gap in breast cancer mortality rate among Black women continues to increase. For example, a report between 2000 and 2010 indicated that breast cancer mortality increased from 30.3% to 41.8% among African American women and that at the advanced stage, 5% of breast cancers are detected among White women compared to 8% of breast cancers among Black women .
Symptoms Of Breast Cancer In Black Men
The main sign of breast cancer in Black men is a lump in the breast, although the nipple and adjacent breast tissue may be affected.
Most lumps and swellings are not a sign of cancer, but you should never categorically ignore them. Theyre usually caused by something fairly harmless, such as enlarged male breast tissue , a fatty lump , or a fluid-filled bump .
Even though rates of breast cancer in Black men are relatively low, all lumps should be checked by a healthcare provider.
Other signs of breast cancer to look for include:
- Swelling of the breast
- Swollen glands, especially under the armpit
- Bloody or red nipple discharge
- Red or hardened breast tissue
Of note, men with a lump in their breast usually have one or more of these specific characteristics:
- Occurs in one breast
- Feels bumpy rather than smooth
- Gradually grows in size over time
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A Doctor Who Looks Like You
As a physician and Black woman, Bea believes that a main inhibitor for the Black community to seeking health care is the absence of doctors who can relate to their life experiences. Only 5% of U.S. doctors are Black, and even fewer are Black women, per 2018 data.
“When I take care of my Black patients … I can’t tell you how often I hear, ‘I trust you because you look like me,'” she said. “I hear stories of, ‘I talked to this doctor, and I told them I had a mass, and they told me it was nothing,’ or ‘I had a pain, and they said it was in my head.’ Unfortunately women are sometimes not taken seriously.”
Black Women And Breast Cancer: The Facts
Previously, Black women were found to have a slightly lower incidence rate of breast cancer than White women, but the gap has closed and the medical community is not sure why. Whats most striking is that the mortality rates between the two are markedly different, with Black women having a 40% higher likelihood of dying from breast cancer than women of other races.
In the early 1990s, breast cancer rates were among the lowest of any race, but over the past 20 years, despite the universal drop in mortality rates, there has been a rise in the incidence of breast cancer in Black women.
For women under 50, the disparity is even greater: The mortality rate among young Black women is double that of young White women. One reason could be the higher likelihood of triple-negative breast cancer, an aggressive and treatment-resistant subtype, in Black women.
The HR+/HER2- subtype makes up more than half of all breast cancer cases in Black women. They also experience an increased risk of breast cancer-related death among those diagnosed with stage 2-3 HR+/HER2-.
Another contributor is delayed diagnosis and treatment, which is the result of persistent socioeconomic gaps and lack of access to quality care for Black women.
Despite advances in treatment that have dramatically reduced breast cancer mortality, the positive effects have not equally benefited all groups.
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What To Do If Your Doctor Wont Discuss Breast Cancer
Some doctors are hesitant to address breast cancer with Black patients when they come in with other health conditions. Health disparities are so pervasive that it can seem as though there are too many conditions to discuss.
Remember that you are entitled to information regarding your entire healthnot just the condition that brought you to your doctors office. Open and honest dialogue with your healthcare provider will make it easier to have these important discussions and get the care that you need.
According to a recent study, the three most commonly reported barriers to mammography were fear of cost, fear of mammogram-associated pain, and fear of getting bad news.
Systemic problems such as the lack of health insurance, concerns about the ability to pay, not having a primary care physician, and biased physician care add another level of difficulty to an already challenging situation.
Other factors that are associated with lower mammogram completion rates include:
- Age younger than 60
- Health plan membership less than five years
- Family income less than $40,000/year
- Obesity: Obese women were more likely than non-obese women to report that mammograms caused them too much pain.
- Recent immigration
- Rural residency
What Is A Normal Breast
No breast is typical. What is normal for you may not be normal for another woman. Most women say their breasts feel lumpy or uneven. The way your breasts look and feel can be affected by getting your period, having children, losing or gaining weight, and taking certain medications. Breasts also tend to change as you age. For more information, see the National Cancer Institutes Breast Changes and Conditions.external icon
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What Questions Should I Ask My Doctor
Ask your healthcare provider about what your cancer diagnosis means for your treatment options and likely outcomes. Questions to ask include:
- What stage is my breast cancer?
- Which specialists will be involved in my care?
- What treatment options would you recommend?
- What outcomes should I expect from treatment?
- What are potential side effects or complications related to treatment?
- Can you connect me with resources ?
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Inflammatory breast cancer is a rare type of cancerthat spreads quickly. Schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider immediately if you notice changes in your breasts, especially a change in one breast but not the other. The changes may be a sign of a less serious condition, like an infection. Still, IBC spreads fast. If your symptoms are a sign of inflammatory breast cancer, youll want to begin treatment as early as possible. Dont delay seeking care that can potentially improve your prognosis.
Black Women May Have More Estrogen Exposure Over Time
Estrogen is inherent in people assigned female at birth. Its part of what allows us to potentially become pregnant and bear children, Dr. Guerra explains. But too much long-term exposure to the hormone can increase breast cancer risk. Estrogen helps breast cancer cells grow, she says, though there are some exceptions like in the case of TNBC. The more they grow, the more likely they are to make a mistake every time the cells copy themselves. Thats a DNA error that then leads to a tumor.
Some factors that increase estrogen exposure include:
- Getting your period before 12 years of age
- Not breastfeeding, which has a protective effect against breast cancer
- Going through menopause after age 55
- Taking certain hormonal medications after menopause
While Black women dont automatically have higher levels of estrogen or more long-term estrogen exposure, research has shown that Black girls and women do have a higher likelihood of some of these key factors, like starting their periods earlier than other racial groups,10 being less likely to breastfeed,11 and being more likely to have obesity as defined by the medical community, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health.
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What Is The Prognosis For People With Inflammatory Breast Cancer
IBC usually develops quickly and spreads to other tissues outside of your breast. It often returns after treatment. Early diagnosis and treatment are vital to managing the condition as effectively as possible.
Because IBC spreads quickly and is found later than other cancers, the outlook for people with this condition is generally not as good as for different types of breast cancer. Still, some people live many years after an IBC diagnosis. Your healthcare provider can explain your prognosis to you.
What Are Some Of The Differences In The Way Breast Cancer Affects Black Women Vs White Women
The breast cancer mortality are about 40% higher among Black women compared to White women.
Black women are more likely to be diagnosed with a more advanced-stage breast cancer compared to White women. The tumors of Black patients are also more likely to be larger and to have spread to the axillary lymph nodes at the time of diagnosis.
The risk for developing a breast cancer increases in all women as we get older, but Black women are more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer at younger ages compared to White women.
In women younger than 40-45 years old, the population-based incidence rates of breast cancer are higher for Black women compared to White women.
About 30% of all newly diagnosed Black breast cancer patients are younger than 50 years old, compared to only 20% of White patients.
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You Cant Face The Stream In The Shower
Does wearing a bra suddenly irritate your nipples? Are your breasts so painful that you have to face away from the stream of water in the shower? Have your breasts become so sensitive that you dont like your partner to touch them anymore? Breasts or nipples that become more sensitive than normal can be a sign of cancer, Dr. Ross says.
Breast sensitivity is often tied to hormone changes, which is why many women experience breast tenderness as part of PMS and its one of the earliest signs of pregnancy. However, some types of breast cancer can affect your hormones, giving you a similar feeling, she explains.
So if your breasts are suddenly way more sensitive than normal and its not around that time of the month and youre not pregnant, give your doctor a call, she says.
Can You Prevent Breast Cancer
Keep in mind that breast cancer is never your fault. But you can take some healthy steps to lower your odds of health problems.
Lifestyle changes associated with lower rates of breast cancer include:
- A diet high in non-starchy vegetables
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Avoiding some kinds of hormonal replacement therapy
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You Cant Stop Itching Your Nipples
Sometimes the girls just need a good scratch, especially if youre wearing a bra edged with lace or sequins. But if your nips are constantly itchy theres a good possibility something else is up and you need to get them checked, Dr. Patt says.
Many things can cause itchy nipples, including a yeast infection or other infection, allergies, and irritation from clothing. But there is a rare type of breast cancer that can cause a dry, red, itchy rash to appear on or around your nipples, similar to the type you get with eczema, she explains.
Regardless of the cause, an itchy rash is one symptom you should always have your doctor take a look at, particularly if it doesnt go away after a week or two.
Six Safe Cosmetics Tips For Women Of Color
- Skip toxic hair products. Go natural!
- Bring your own safer neutralizing shampoo to the salon to avoid: formaldehyde-releasing preservatives, endocrine disruptors, or carcinogens.
- Avoid nail polishes that include any of the toxic trio: dibutyl phthalate, formaldehyde, toluene.
- Reduce your use of products with added fragrance.
- Read labels closely and find safer alternatives using apps and websites like ThinkDirty, EWGs Healthy Living, the Good Guide.
- Trusted third party certifiers like Made Safe and EWG Verified will rate your personal care products for safety and toxicity.
Given that African American communities face both high exposure and high risk, its crucial that the cosmetics industry reform to ensure that cosmetic products, particularly those targeting these vulnerable communities, are made with safe ingredients.
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You Notice Changes That Aren’t Related To Your Boobs At All
Back pain, neck pain, and unexplained weight loss were all listed as other breast cancer symptoms that led women to seek medical care and ultimately get diagnosed with breast cancer, according to the study published in Cancer Epidemiology.
That’s because breast cancer can spread before it’s caught, causing symptoms in body parts that have nothing to do with your boobs. It’s not possible to identify every possible sign of breast cancer so when it comes to early detection, you are your own best weapon, says Dr. Denduluri. Overall, any persistent, noticeable change should be checked by a doctor.
What Is The Best Screening Technique For Detecting Breast Cancer In Black Women
Mammography and general breast health awareness are the most important screening strategies for Black women.
Women who have had relatives diagnosed with breast cancer at young ages, and women with known BRCA mutations, should start yearly mammograms before reaching age 40.
Those with a family history should start screening mammograms 5-10 years younger than the youngest age of breast cancer diagnosis in the family.
They may need to undergo a breast MRI for additional monitoring.
Being aware of changes in the breast a new lump, bloody nipple discharge, or skin changes, such as inflammation or dimpling is essential in Black women.
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