By Allan Bucka Jones
PRIDE Health Columnist
Black women are at greater risk of dying from early-stage breast cancer when compared with women of other races and ethnicities.
Breast cancer carries a triple negative category where growth of the cancer is not supported by hormonal estrogen and progesterone. Black women are three times more likely to develop this type of breast cancer, which is about 10-20 per cent of all breast cancers. It affects women in their early thirties, it is a very aggressive type of cancer, and can lead to death by the mid-thirties.
The big problem in Canada centers around the great disconnect with the messaging coming from the Canadian Cancer Society regarding breast cancer screening. Women are encouraged to do a mammogram when they are in their late forties. By then it is too late for many black women, who are then experiencing late stage cancers or dead.
In a breast cancer study, published earlier this year, in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers looked at medical records of 373,563 American women diagnosed with invasive breast cancer from 2004 to 2011. When they looked at survival rates seven years after diagnosis, they noticed wide disparities along racial and ethnic lines. Biological differences in the tumours explain some of these findings, however other factors may include lifestyle, diet and genetics.
While this study involved American women Dr. Steven Narod, director of the Familial Breast Cancer Research Unit at Women’s College Research Institute and Canada Research Chair in Breast Cancer, believes the situation in Canada is similar.
For instance, the probability of a woman dying was significantly higher for black women at nine per cent, compared with five per cent for white and Hispanic women and two per cent for Asian women. Among Asian women, there was a three per cent risk of death for Chinese women, two per cent for Japanese and four per cent for Indian and Pakistani women.
Adherence to breast cancer awareness and screening is paramount. Women, and especially black women should understand their individualized risk of breast cancer based on their ethnicity, family history and reproductive history.
Women, do not be a passive partner in the relationship between you and your family doctor. Do not wait until your late forties to get your first mammogram done, ask your doctor to have it done in your early thirties. Black women are three times more likely to develop the aggressive triple negative subgroup of breast cancer in their early thirties. This triple negative breast cancer, represents about 10-20 per cent of all breast cancers. Sometimes you have to demand that the doctor orders the mammogram for you, because you are going to be told you are too young. Reject that response politely, and ask for the mammogram. It is the responsibility of the doctors to avoid cancer screening and treatment delays in ethnic groups that are at higher risk of survival disparity, such as black women.
Breast self-examination is still a useful tool to check for unusual developments in your breast. Talk to your family doctor on how it should be done, or call the Canadian Cancer Society at 1-800-268-8874 for information.
Proper breast health is critical for all women, but especially black women who have a greater risk of dying from breast cancer when compared to other groups. Take responsibility for your breasts. Be vigilant.
Allan Bucka Jones is a Health Promoter and Broadcaster. He can be heard on “Allan Bucka Jones LIVE”, Sundays from 4 to 6pm on VIBE 105 FM Toronto, www.vibe1055.com, VIBE RADIO App, Rogers Digital Cable 945, Bell Fibe 973 or mobile app TuneIn Radio. You can contact Allan Bucka Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org.