Recent research results are troubling. When it comes to survival after diagnosis, Black women with ADVANCED breast cancer are living no longer than they did nearly two decades ago (as of 2003). White women with advanced breast cancer have been enjoying improved survival over the same nearly two decades.
Many different factors contribute to white women living longer than African American women after an advanced breast cancer diagnosis. For instance, other research has suggested that breast cancers in African American women are biologically different than breast cancers in white women. This means that the genetic makeup of the cancers is different. These differences can result in more aggressive cancers that are harder to treat. Doctors may need to consider and research different approaches to breast cancer treatment for Black women.
However, some of the difference in outcome is undoubtedly the result of problems with timely access to breast cancer diagnosis and treatment among African American women. A 2006 study showed that Black women have less frequent mammogram screenings, a longer follow-up time after an abnormal mammogram, and delays and other differences in diagnosis and treatment.
EVERY woman with breast cancer — no matter her age, height, weight, ethnicity, or medical history — is unique. And the same is true of every breast cancer. While we can’t change the biology of breast cancer in any one woman, we should be able to do better addressing the access and timing problems of screening, diagnosis and treatment. A good place to start is with screening, since breast cancer that is diagnosed early is typically easier to treat and so has the best chance of survival.
Consistent and timely screening for breast cancer, including regular breast self-exam and mammograms, is important for everyone. When you have a mammogram, make sure your doctor notifies you of the results. If not, call the office to follow up. If you're not sure about what the results mean, ask your doctor right away. If cost or scheduling problems are discouraging you from scheduling a mammogram or a follow-up visit with your doctor, ask a healthcare professional for help. You might have to work a little, but it's YOUR health and YOUR future -- so it’s certainly worth it.
This article was made possible by an educational grant from GlaxoSmithKline.