October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Research shows significant disparities for Black women in breast cancer detection and treatment.
While Black and White women get breast cancer at about the same rates, Black women are 40% more likely to die from the disease and are also more likely to be diagnosed before age 40 when annual screenings typically start, according to the American Cancer Society. “So, we’re dealing with the fact that Black women are more likely to be diagnosed with a breast cancer that would not have been caught early by screening mammography. It’s more likely to have been caught after they develop a symptom or a mass, which means it’s typically at later stage,” says Dr. Lola Fayanju.
Dr. Fayanju is Chief of Breast Surgery at Penn Medicine. She says with the risks for Black women, espeically younger Black women, she encourages them to have a breast cancer risk assessment with their doctor at age 30 and also do self-breast exams. “Those are the real messages I want to convey to my fellow Black women, is that know your body, know your family history, take ownership of your health, and really definitely begin screening at 40, if not sooner, if you’re found to have a family history that makes you at risk for a higher risk for breast cancer,” says Dr. Fayanju.
Darlene Bassett-Waters gets annual mammograms, and the 53-year-old has a message for other women after having two breast cancers identified early: “Don’t put it off. If I would have put it off, you know, where would I be?”
Darlene wants her daughters to know about their risks. “My story to them was, this is the reason why we need to take care of our bodies,” Darlene says. She knows first-hand the importance of early detection and treatment.
Black women are also more likely to develop a specific type of aggressive breast cancer called triple negative breast cancer, which has a poor prognosis because there is a lack of effective treatments for the disease.