As an African American woman, I am aware that statistically I am at a disproportionate rate when it comes to just about all health risks. Yet, I was surprised to find that at age 23, I am more likely to get breast cancer than my 50-year-old mother.
As part of Breast Cancer Awareness month, the University of Chicago held a forum for young Black women. The reason: according to The American Cancer Society, Black women under the age of 40 are more likely to get breast cancer than whites. More so, there are more than 250,000 women living in the United States today who were age 40 or under when they were diagnosed with breast cancer, according to statistics from the Young Survival Coalition.
These figures lead me to question why this is so? Which by all means is a natural reaction.
In the article posted on CBS’s website covering the forum, several attendees asked the same question? One young lady was quoted saying,
“I am struggling to figure out why is this the case…Is it the diet? Is it the environment? Is it stress? The fact that a lot of African-American women are single parents? That they grow up in neighborhoods where you have to be careful walking home?”
It’s sad to say but all of these factors play a major part. Just as with many diseases, possible prevention tactics for breast cancer include: eating healthy, exercising regularly, controlling body weight, and getting screened regularly and early.
With that said, many black women are limited to such resources in their community. They may not have access to gym facilities, time or money it takes to maintain a healthy eating diet, or most importantly, adequate healthcare that will allow and motivate them to go for regular check ups.
But once again—why young black women?
In researching this topic, I never quite got my answer. There were a lot of facts and figures, a lot of prevention methods, but no conclusive results.
Best assumptive explanation would be the “trickle down” affect. A young girl, growing up in a household where breast self-examinations are not discussed, or healthy lifestyle choices are not made for them, typically carries those influences into adulthood.
In Ebony’s October Women’s Health issue, I read that the primary focus for breast cancer has been prevention, detection and treatment of the disease for women 50 and older. “But in the African-American community, the disease can strike well before physicians and cancer advocate groups recommend that women get baseline mammograms [which is suggested at age 40].”
Most of the time mother’s neglect to stress the importance of breast self-examinations to their young girls, because for so long breast cancer has been thought of as an older woman’s disease.
So awareness is key.
Educating young woman, like myself, about breast cancer, presenting the facts and figures-that they are more susceptible to the disease, can definitely increase knowledge.
Black women need to take control and become their own health advocate by knowing your bodies, going to visit the doctor regularly, and doing breast self-examinations.
Below are the key steps you need to know when performing breast self-examinations.
CHECK ONCE A MONTH. Young women (pre-menopausal) should choose a time two or three days after their period ends so their breasts are least likely to be tender, swollen or lumpy. Post-menopausal women should choose a date that’s easy to remember.
CHECK IN THE SHOWER. Raise your arm over your head. With your fingers flat, move them over your breast (including your armpit) in a circular motion. Use your left hand for your right breast and your right hand for your left breast.
CHECK IN FRONT OF A MIRROR. Lying down, women should check to see if the shape or contour of the breasts have changed. Also check to see if there is any swelling, dimpling of the skin, or changes in the skin or nipple. Gently squeeze the nipple to check for discharge.
–Ebony Magazine, Women’s Health Section, October 2009
Danielle Hester graduated from DePaul University with a Bachelors of Arts in communications and concentration in journalism. The aspiring magazine writer has done research for the Chicago Sun-Times’ political columnists Carol Marin and Laura S. Washington, and ABC7 Investigation Team with Chuck Goudie. Danielle is currently a freelance writer living in Chicago. She has had stories published in Ebony, the Chicago Reporter, N’Digo and Streetwise. She’s written stories on subjects that range from urban gentrification, affordable housing, to AIDS and violence against women as well as fashion news and entertainment.