What Black Women Need to Know About Breast Cancer

Although heart disease is the leading cause of death in American women, the Centers for Disease Control reports that breast cancer is the most common cancer in women.  According to the American Cancer Society, 1 in 8 American women have a chance of developing breast cancer and in 2017 about 252,710 new cases of invasive breast cancer were diagnosed. 

While black women have historically had lower incidence rates than white women, statistics show that death rates among black women are higher, and that disparity continues to widen. Black women are also more likely than other racial/ethnic groups to be diagnosed at later stages and have the lowest survival at each state of diagnosis. They are also more likely to be diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer, an aggressive subtype that is linked to poorer survival.

Here’s what you can do to lower your risk:

Control your weight: Because obesity and excess weight increase the risk of developing breast cancer, the American Cancer Society recommends that women maintain a healthy weight throughout their life. Dropping even a few pounds has health benefits and is a good place to start.

Stay active: Growing evidence suggests that women who get regular physical activity have a 10%-25% lower risk of breast cancer compared to women who get no exercise. Doing even a little physical activity beyond your regular daily routine can have many health benefits.

Limit alcohol: Many studies have confirmed that drinking alcohol increases the risk of breast cancer in women by about 7% to 10% for each drink per day. For women who drink alcohol, the American Cancer Society recommends they limit themselves to no more than 1 drink per day.

Stop smoking: Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among black women. And there is some scientific evidence that smoking increases the risk of breast cancer slightly, especially among heavy, long-term smokers and women who begin smoking before their first pregnancy. A recent study by American Cancer Society researchers found that women who begin smoking before they give birth to their first child had a 21% higher risk of breast cancer than did women who never smoked. Quitting has numerous health benefits.

Get an annual mammogram: To find breast cancer early, when treatments are more likely to be successful, the American Cancer Society recommends women should begin having yearly mammograms by age 45, and can change to having mammograms every other year beginning at age 55. Women should have the choice to start screening with yearly mammograms as early as age 40 if they want to.

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