October Is Breast-Cancer Awareness Month — and It Strikes Blacks Earlier 

The American Cancer Society estimated more than 19,000 black women would be diagnosed with breast cancer this year — the second-most common cancer among black women, surpassed only by lung cancer.

And while the incidence of breast cancer is about 12 percent lower in black women than in white women, with black women, it often strikes at an earlier age, and the mortality rate is higher.

Since October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, many women schedule their annual mammograms during the month to make it easier to remember. Others make mammogram appointments on or near their birthdays.

According to the American Cancer Society's "Cancer Facts & Figures for African-Americans 2007-2008" booklet, "Factors that contribute to the higher death rates among African-American women include differences in access to and utilization of early detection and treatment, risk factors that are differentially distributed by race or socio-economic status, or biological differences associated with race."

As Netwellness.org reports, "Statistics show that overall, when African-American women are diagnosed, they have larger tumors and their breast cancer has spread further (i.e., to the lymph nodes and to other parts of the body)."

The five-year breast-cancer survival rate for black women is 69 percent, compared with 84 percent for white women. And while there has been an increase in the number of women getting mammograms, black women still tend to have fewer mammograms and are more likely to be diagnosed after the cancer has spread.

If that's not enough to get you into a doctor's office, consider this: Black women are also disproportionately prone to a rare, particularly virulent form of breast cancer that tends to strike women under the age of 35.

According to a study published in June 2006 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, black women under the age of 50 have a 77 percent higher mortality rate from breast cancer than other women of the same age group.

The study, led by scientists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, said that younger, pre-menopausal black women are more prone to an especially aggressive type of cancer.

In addition to the UNC study, researchers at Emory University and the University of Chicago are trying to determine the root cause of the cancer and why it strikes young black women decades before menopause, when most breast cancer develops.

And don't forget to check the medical history of your father's family. In June, JAMA published the results of a study that revealed that a pattern of hereditary breast cancer may be hard to detect because a family is so small or has so few female members that it doesn't appear to be prevalent. However, the cancer gene can be passed on from the father's side of the family, as well as the mother's, because every person inherits half of her genes from her mother and half from her father.

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