Closing the Gap in Breast Cancer Mortality Rates
- A new study published by Annals of Internal Medicine says that beginning mammograms screenings at age 40, and having a mammogram every two years, could reduce breast cancer mortality rates for Black women. Black women are 40 percent more likely than white women to die from breast cancer.
- Current screening guidelines recommend that women aged 45-54 with an average risk of cancer (meaning, no family history of the disease) have a mammogram once per year.
- Mammograms are life-saving and critically important screening methods; speak with your doctor about getting a mammogram if you’re overdue for one.
Currently, Black women are nearly 40 percent more likely than White women to die from breast cancer. Breast cancer is also the most common cancer found among Black women. This study was executed because “Compared with White women,” says the study, “Black women in the United States are younger when they are diagnosed with breast cancer and have cancer at more advanced stages at diagnosis.”Read More
“This is a screen-detected cancer. So, if one population is getting fewer mammograms than another, then of course we are going to find cancer in that population at a later stage, maybe after they are already symptomatic,” Dr. Oluchi Oke of the MD Anderson Cancer Center told SurvivorNet in a previous interview.
Racial Disparities in Cancer Care
Cancer care is rife with racial disparities in treatment and mortality rates, particularly with certain cancers, such as breast and colon cancer. In an earlier interview with SurvivorNet, Dr. Anita Johnson, a Breast Surgical Oncologist at Cancer Treatment Centers of America, points specifically to breast cancer as an example of the difference in mortality rates.
“When it comes to breast cancer,” says Dr. Johnson, “the mortality rates for African American women are substantially higher than Caucasian women. They [African American women] often present with triple-negative breast cancer, which is a more aggressive type of breast cancer, which always requires chemotherapy and has a higher recurrence rate.”
“When we look at stage four,” Dr. Johnson says, “the outcomes are much worse as compared to Caucasian women. When we look at the standard of care treatment options based on stages, in some cases, African American women are not being treated with the same standard of care treatment options.”
How to Screen for Breast Cancer
Breast cancer is typically detected via mammogram, which looks for lumps in the breast tissue and signs of cancer. Women with an average risk of breast cancer, who have no family history of the disease and no incidence of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation, should get annual mammograms between the ages of 45 to 54. Women with a higher risk of the disease should begin screening earlier.
In a previous interview, Dr. Connie Lehman, chief of the Breast Imaging Division at Massachusetts General Hospital, emphasizes the importance of screening. She says, “If you haven’t gone through menopause yet, I think it’s very important that you have a mammogram every year. We know that cancers grow more rapidly in our younger patients, and having that annual mammogram can be lifesaving.”
“After menopause, it may be perfectly acceptable to reduce that frequency to every two years,” says Dr. Lehman. “But what I’m most concerned about is the women who haven’t been in for a mammogram for two, three, or four years, those women that have never had a mammogram. We all agree regular screening mammography saves lives.”