Ignorance about breast cancer often equates to death

Miami Times Editorial Department | 10/10/2013, 9 a.m.

Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer among Black women in the U.S. It is also the second-leading cause of cancer death among Black women, exceeded only by lung cancer. In fact, a look at recent statistics reveals that in 2013, an estimated 27,060 new cases of breast cancer will occur among Black women, resulting in over 6,080 deaths. However, the unfortunate truth is that many women’s lives could have been prolonged and great pain and suffering avoided, had they done one simple thing — gotten a regular mammogram.

Here again the statistics show that Black and white women face two very different scenarios. Ironically, while the breast cancer incidence in Black women is lower than in white women overall, for women younger than 45, the incidence is higher among Black women. Black women have lower survival rates with a mortality rate 41 percent higher than in white women. Finally, when comparing a recent five-year relative survival rate for breast cancer among Black women, it was 79 percent, compared to 92 percent for white women.

The question is, if breast cancer screening rates are relatively equal, and they are among Black women and white women, then something else must be happening. Medical experts point to five factors that all Black women need to consider: barriers to health care access; health behaviors; later stage of breast cancer diagnosis; prevalence of risk factors; and biological and/or genetic differences.

Women must begin to listen to their bodies more carefully, research and understand their family histories as it relates to others who may have faced breast cancer, lead healthier lives and find a way to have annual check ups. After all, the life you save may be your own. Arm yourselves with as much information as possible as ignorance can sometimes be a killer.