Health Conditions / Cancer / Breast Cancer

6 Early Symptoms of Breast Cancer That Are Easy to Miss

6 Early Symptoms of Breast Cancer That Are Easy to Miss

Dr. Gary says palpable lumps in young people with breasts are one of the more commonly missed or disregarded symptoms because they’re often mistaken for fibrocystic breast changes, the non-cancerous changes that give a breast a lumpy or ropelike texture, typically from hormonal changes that happen during a person’s period. This is extremely common, affecting approximately 50% of people who menstruate between the ages of 20 and 50, per the Cleveland Clinic.“This can make self and clinical exams challenging because you might think a new lump represents a cyst or normal change in the breast tissue,” Dr. Flanagan says. If an existing lump does not go away after your next period, get it checked out.3. Changes in breast shape and contourNaturally, your breast shape will change over time. After all, your breasts at 20 are not what you see at 50 (thanks, gravity!), especially if you’ve been pregnant or nursed a baby.That said, it’s time to talk to a doctor when those changes seem to have happened quickly and don’t seem to be associated with your menstrual cycle, significant weight gain or loss, pregnancy, or breastfeeding. For example, Dr. Gary says changes in the contour of the breast, such as dimpling, could be an early sign of breast cancer. Also key to note, per the American Cancer Society, is thickening or swelling of the breast, even if you do not feel a lump. Dr. Gary says these changes may become more apparent as cancers grow inside the tissues.4. Nipple changes or dischargeAnother early sign of breast cancer can include certain changes to your nipples, such as nipples that turn inward, pull to one side, dimple, or change direction, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Inflammation around the nipple, scaly skin, crusting, and itchiness or a burning sensation also warrant a convo with your doctor.Abnormal nipple discharge is another thing worth paying attention to. If you’ve been pregnant, you’re likely familiar with fluids dripping out of your nipples (hello, colostrum and breast milk). But discharge that is new and not obviously related to pregnancy, breastfeeding, or another medical reason is a potential cause for concern, especially if it is “abnormal,” meaning it’s bloody, leaking from only one nipple, or comes out on its own without any squeezing.5. Skin inflammation, discoloration, or swellingWhile not as common as other early breast cancer signs, new onset of breast discoloration, thickening of the breast skin, swelling that affects more than a third of the breast, or swollen lymph nodes near the underarm can be associated with inflammatory breast cancer (IBC), a rare and “very” aggressive form of the disease that is often mistaken as an infection, per the National Cancer Institute. Dr. O’Neill says you may also notice a change in the texture of the breast under the skin.With IBC, the discoloration can appear pink, red, reddish-purple, or bruised, depending on your skin tone. This is important to note because inflammatory breast cancer is often just associated with “redness”—even though the disease disproportionately impacts Black people, who may not as easily notice discoloration compared to those who have lighter skin.2,36. Breast pain or heavinessAlthough most breast cancers do not cause pain, it is possible. Dr. Flanagan says feeling breast pain and heaviness are potential early symptoms—and often get overlooked or ignored. “Unilateral, new onset breast pain [in one specific spot] should be evaluated by a health care professional, and imaging should be completed to rule out breast cancer,” she says. If the pain is severe or persists, the American Cancer Society recommends getting it checked out. This type of pain is often associated with inflammatory breast cancer, which can also cause tenderness, aching, and heaviness in the breast, in addition to the inflammation, swelling, and thickening mentioned above.How to check your breasts for early signs of cancerKnowing the symptoms is just one part of the prevention puzzle. You should also examine your breasts frequently—and just be really aware of what “normal” looks and feels like for your own body. Here are some expert-backed tips to help you get started.Get up close and personal with your breasts.That “normal” we’re talking about has a name, Dr. Gary says: Think of it as “breast self-awareness.” It involves knowing the ins and outs of your breasts both before and during your period, a time when your hormones are in flux. It also means becoming familiar with asymmetry that might be normal for you, such as breast size differences or nipple placement. “I tell my patients their breasts are twins but seldom identical,” Dr. Gary says.

‘Mean Girls’ Actor Jonathan Bennett Explained Why He Gets Screened for Breast Cancer

‘Mean Girls’ Actor Jonathan Bennett Explained Why He Gets Screened for Breast Cancer

In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Jonathan Bennett reminded his social media followers that sometimes cis men need mammograms too. The 41-year-old Mean Girls actor shared footage from his recent screening on Instagram last week.“I’m showing you what it’s like to get a mammogram,” Bennett, 41, said in the video. “After my husband had a scare a few years ago, and with cancer running in both of our families, screenings are important to us.”In the video, he gets scanned from multiple angles, and then he’s dismissed to go outside and eat a cupcake. “After a few different positions and X-rays, that’s it! The radiologist checks my images, and I’m done,” he said. (Bennett, who lost his father to cancer, according to an interview with The Knot, said in his post that he’s partnering with an organization raising money for the Ellie Fund, which provides services to breast cancer patients.)Instagram contentThis content can also be viewed on the site it originates from.While breast cancer mostly affects women, about 1 in every 100 diagnoses occurs in men, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates that 2,710 new cases of invasive breast cancer in men will be diagnosed this year, and 530 men will die from the disease.Possible symptoms of breast cancer in men can include a lump, swelling, nipple retraction (when the nipple turns inward), nipple discharge, redness (depending on your skin tone), and scaling of the skin, per the ACS. The changes can occur directly in the breasts or in nearby areas, such as around the collarbone. Of course, these symptoms aren’t always an immediate sign of breast cancer, but it’s best to see a health care provider if you notice any of these changes in your general chest area (especially if they’re new or persistent).Family history is just one risk factor for breast cancer in men. Others include older age (most men are diagnosed after age 50), certain genetic mutations, and certain underlying health conditions, including liver disease, per the CDC. According to the ACS, Black men are more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer than white men.If you have a history of breast cancer in your family, the CDC says you should have a conversation with your doctor about which screenings are right for you and how often you should get them—and Bennett echoed that recommendation in his video. He encouraged his followers to be proactive about their health and to “talk to your doctor about what’s right for you,” regardless of gender.Related:

Here’s Why Katie Couric Says Her Breast Cancer Diagnosis Is a ‘Teachable Moment’

Here’s Why Katie Couric Says Her Breast Cancer Diagnosis Is a ‘Teachable Moment’

She suddenly had flashbacks to the moments she’d been told about family members’ cancer diagnoses, including her first husband, Jay Monahan, who died in 1998 at the age of 42. “The heart-stopping, suspended animation feeling I remember all too well came flooding back,” Couric wrote. “Jay’s colon cancer diagnosis at 41 and the terrifying, gutting nine months that followed. My sister Emily’s pancreatic cancer, which would later kill her at 54, just as her political career was really taking off. My mother-in-law Carol’s ovarian cancer, which she was fighting as she buried her son, a year and nine months before she herself was laid to rest.”Couric waited to tell her two daughters about the diagnosis until she had a better understanding of her illness and prognosis. “Finally, four days after I was diagnosed, I FaceTimed each of them,” she wrote. “Their faces froze in disbelief. Then shock…They’d already lost one parent. The idea of losing another was unfathomable.”Fortunately, Couric was told that her tumor was “highly treatable.” A lumpectomy—during which cancer or other abnormal tissue is removed from the breast—was scheduled; Couric’s medical team also recommended radiation and medication. Following the procedure, Couric received some good news: “The pathology came back a few weeks later. Thankfully, my lymph nodes were clean…I’d later learn my Oncotype—which measures the likelihood of your cancer returning—was 19, considered low enough to forgo chemotherapy.”She started radiation on September 7, just under three months after her diagnosis. Her gratitude for the medical care and support she received eventually grew into frustration, though. “Throughout the process, I kept thinking about…How lucky I was to have access to such incredible care, since so many people don’t…It made me feel grateful and guilty—and angry that there’s a de facto caste system when it comes to health care in America.”Couric said she also grew increasingly angry that screenings for people with dense breasts—like the ultrasound that alerted Couric’s doctor to her tumor—are frequently out of reach. “Far too many women are not benefiting from a technology that will allow their breast cancer to be diagnosed early, when it’s most treatable.”Ultimately, Couric hopes that sharing her cancer story serves as a crucial reminder: to advocate for your health, schedule preventive screenings if you have access to them, and ask questions if you’re unsure of what’s recommended for you. “Please get your annual mammogram,” she wrote. “I was six months late this time. I shudder to think what might have happened if I had put it off longer. But just as importantly, please find out if you need additional screening.”Related:

Shannen Doherty Shares Details About Her Latest Breast Cancer Development

Shannen Doherty Shares Details About Her Latest Breast Cancer Development

Shannen Doherty has not had the easiest eight years dealing with breast cancer, to say the least. In a new Instagram post, she shared a health update, writing: “Early morning doctors visit for scans. Blurry eyed. Hair askew but the new bandage wraps made me smile! #cancerslayer” along with a selfie and a snap of her pink, heart-patterned bandages. In 2015, Doherty was first diagnosed with breast cancer after she noticed a lump in her breast. She underwent hormone therapy but eventually needed to undergo a single mastectomy as well as chemotherapy and radiation. In 2017, Doherty’s cancer went into remission. Unfortunately in February 2020, it returned as stage IV breast cancer. It had also spread to other parts of her body. Instagram contentThis content can also be viewed on the site it originates from.Breast cancer stages range from 0 to IV, with higher numerals indicating a more invasive cancer, or how far the cancerous cells have progressed beyond the original tumor. According to the Mayo Clinic, Stage 0 means that the cancer is noninvasive or it is contained within the milk ducts, while Stage IV (also referred to as metastatic breast cancer), the stage Doherty is facing, is cancer that has spread to other parts of the body. According to the American Cancer Society, more than 150,000 breast cancer survivors in the U.S. are living with metastatic breast cancer. Research has found that thanks to scientific advances, the survival of people diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer has dramatically improved, despite this form of cancer not typically being curable.Despite her difficult few years of ongoing cancer treatments, Doherty has continued to work, appearing in two TV movies last year, List of a Lifetime and Dying to Belong. Over the years, the actress has also turned to social media to share many moments of her cancer journey, including her experiences chemotherapy. Instagram contentThis content can also be viewed on the site it originates from.For breast cancer awareness month in October last year, she also shared with her followers in a post that detailed her struggles, writing: “I had many nose bleeds from the chemo. Not sure if any of you experienced this. I also was beyond tired. I cheered myself up by putting on funny pajamas that my friend Kristy gave me. Did they actually cheer me up? Yes!! Lol. I looked ridiculous and in that ridiculousness, I was able to laugh at myself. Finding humor helped get me thru what seemed impossible. I hope we all find humor in the impossible.” Instagram contentThis content can also be viewed on the site it originates from.Related:

18 Possible Reasons Your Boobs Are Unbearably Itchy

18 Possible Reasons Your Boobs Are Unbearably Itchy

If you’re wearing the same bras and shirts you always have, this probably isn’t the reason behind your itchy boobs or nipples. But if you recently started wearing a new top, started going braless completely, or switched up your workout routine to something that causes more bounce—and breast or nipple itchiness followed—friction is definitely a cause to consider.4. Your skin is irritated from a sunburn.If you’ve been topless outdoors recently, whether it was on a beach or in your backyard, this could be your problem. Your breast skin is sensitive and can easily get burned, especially since it’s not typically exposed to sunlight. Along with delightful side effects like peeling, sunburns can cause intense itching thanks to skin irritation.5. You have a heat rash.Along those same lines, getting a heat rash on your chest can also cause itchy breasts, Sherry A. Ross, M.D., a women’s health expert and author of She-ology: The Definitive Guide to Women’s Intimate Health. Period, tells SELF. “When breasts get overheated and start to perspire, the skin of the breasts can become irritated, red, and itchy,” she explains. Indeed, heat rash typically happens when sweat gets trapped under your skin, blocking your pores, according to the Mayo Clinic.6. You had an allergic reaction to perfume, soap, laundry detergent, dryer sheets, or something else.Contact dermatitis is an allergic reaction or irritation that can happen when your skin is exposed to something it doesn’t like, and itchiness is one of its major giveaways, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). If you wash your bras with regular detergent or dry them with dryer sheets, it’s possible your boobs will riot and become itchy. (Same goes for towels, sheets if you sleep in the nude, and basically anything else that can come into contact with your chest, including your body wash.) Fragrance in particular is often a culprit behind allergic contact dermatitis, especially if you have sensitive skin.7. You simply have dry skin.We’d be remiss not to mention this one. Good old-fashioned dry skin could be the reason you have itchy boobs or nipples. “Dry skin anywhere on the body can cause itching,” notes Dr. Ross.This can be particularly problematic in the wintertime, Dr. Rodney says. That’s because the air outside tends to be cold and dry, which is like a double whammy when it comes to retaining moisture in your skin. Unfortunately, the warm air inside probably isn’t doing you any favors either, as indoor heating tends to zap humidity and leave dry air in its wake.So, be extra diligent about applying lotion to your boobs (including your nipples) when the temps drop, as it’s an area that many people with breasts tend to neglect when moisturizing in general, Dr. Rodney says.8. You have full-blown eczema.Eczema is a chronic skin condition that causes dry, itchy inflammation that can show up as a scaly rash, per the AAD. While it typically affects areas like the backs of the knees and crooks of the elbows, it can affect just about any of your body, including your breasts. If you’ve had itchy breasts for a while and you can’t pinpoint why, eczema could be the cause, especially if you have dry, itchy, or cracked skin around the nipple area specifically, Dr. Rodney says.9. You have psoriasis.There are many different types of psoriasis, but plaque psoriasis is most common, the Mayo Clinic says. With this condition, your immune system mistakenly causes skin cells to build up and form dry, scaly, itchy patches called plaques, typically on areas like the elbows, knees, lower back, and scalp. Unfortunately, much like eczema, psoriasis can also show up on or under your boobs. (On top of both being frustrating, that can make psoriasis and eczema easy to confuse. To dig a bit deeper, check out SELF’s article on how to tell the difference between the two conditions.)10. You have a yeast infection under your boobs.You probably associate yeast infections with your vagina. And you wouldn’t be wrong, since they can certainly afflict vaginas and cause all sorts of symptoms like wonky discharge and swelling. But yeast infections are also pretty common under the breasts, Dr. Goldenberg says. Moisture can get trapped under there as the area can get especially sweaty, creating an environment that’s perfect for yeast to grow, which can result in itchy boobs. However, you’ll probably deal with other symptoms too, like a red rash, pimple-like bumps, burning, or skin patches that ooze clear fluid, per Johns Hopkins Medicine.11. You are pregnant, recently gave birth, or are breastfeeding.Pregnancy, having a baby, and breastfeeding can all set off a pretty major breast change that can contribute to itchy boobs and itchy nipples: Your breasts can go way up in size, says Dr. Ross. Which, you knew that already, but it bears repeating here because that change can lead to stretch marks, which Dr. Ross notes can cause itching in some people as they form. The breastfeeding process specifically may cause your nipples to become dry and irritated from all that contact.12. Your boobs grew very quickly for other reasons.There are other reasons why your boobs can get bigger in size rapidly, including puberty and weight gain. Again, when the skin has to stretch faster than it normally grows, it can lead to stretch marks that cause inflammation and itchiness, Dr. Rodney says.13. You have hypothyroidism.Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) is when your thyroid gland doesn’t make enough hormones to keep your body running smoothly, according to the Mayo Clinic. Your thyroid is a small gland in your neck with a huge job: It essentially governs your body’s metabolism, meaning that thyroid issues can manifest in myriad ways. An underactive thyroid can cause dry skin that can lead to itchy breasts, in addition to many other symptoms like fatigue, constipation, thinning hair, and a slower heart rate, the Mayo Clinic says.14. You’re taking a medication that causes itchy skin.So many medications come with a long list of side effects, and itchy skin can be one of them. These can include things like blood pressure medications, says Dr. Ross, or even aspirin, according to the AAD. If you suspect a new medication could be the culprit, check in with your doctor, who may prescribe a lower dosage to try and mitigate side effects or prescribe a similar medication to try instead.15. You’re going through menopause.Changes in hormones that you experience in menopause (namely, a drop in estrogen and progesterone) can cause the skin on your boobs to become thinner. That, in turn, can make the area more susceptible to itchiness, Dr. Rodney says.16. In rare cases, itchy boobs may be a symptom of breast cancer.If you have breast itchiness, it’s much more likely that it’s due to one of the above reasons and not breast cancer. With that said, there’s a small chance it could be inflammatory breast cancer, a rare but aggressive form of the disease that invades your skin’s dermis (the layer of skin that lies beneath your epidermis, the outer layer of skin), creating an inflammatory response, Jack Jacoub, M.D., a medical oncologist and medical director of MemorialCare Cancer Institute at Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California, tells SELF.

17 Genuinely Helpful Gifts for Someone Going Through Chemo

17 Genuinely Helpful Gifts for Someone Going Through Chemo

Cancer can be terrifying, exhausting and isolating—so can chemotherapy treatment. So you might find yourself looking for some genuinely helpful gifts for someone going through chemo and cancer treatment—anything to help them through the process. “When you’re going through this, the support and little gestures from your friends and family really do mean the world to you,” Tatei Montejo, a London-based life coach who has ovarian cancer, tells SELF. Susan Rafte, a breast cancer survivor and volunteer at MD Anderson Cancer Center, agrees. “There’s so much going on in a patient’s world that it’s nice to let them know you’re thinking of them,” she tells SELF.Of course, everyone is different and you know your loved one best. Simply being there—running errands, holding their hand, providing a distraction from treatment—is often the most thoughtful gift. But if you’re looking for another way to show your support or brighten their day with a chemo care package, we’ve got the best gift ideas for someone going through chemo, according to people who had the treatment, those who’ve supported a loved one through it, and those who work with chemo patients.(For the person who has all the material things to stay as comfortable as possible throughout treatment, consider making a donation to cancer research in their honor in lieu of a chemo gift during this difficult time. If you’re not sure which nonprofit to donate to, search Charity Navigator to find cancer nonprofit organizations that actually donate the bulk of their funds to research and programs that directly benefit cancer patients.)All products featured on SELF are independently selected by our editors. However, when you buy something through our retail links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

7 Ways Black Women Can Advocate for Themselves After a Breast Cancer Diagnosis

7 Ways Black Women Can Advocate for Themselves After a Breast Cancer Diagnosis

For example, they might recommend having a mastectomy to remove your entire breast, which can be really daunting. But if you have full clarity on why that surgery is necessary—say, you have cancer in multiple parts of your breast that would be difficult to eradicate with other treatments—knowing that you’re doing the best thing to take care of your health could make the choice easier.Remember, come to each appointment with a list of questions so you can get all the information you need. The American Cancer Society also has helpful information on how to interpret studies on new cancer treatments and regularly publishes updates on the latest cancer research, so you can stay on top of new findings and discuss them with your care team.3. Don’t be afraid to find a new doctor if you don’t feel heard.Research indicates that Black people often feel like medical professionals doubt their experiences or dismiss their concerns, which may be rooted in racial bias among other factors. When you’re dealing with something as serious as a breast cancer diagnosis, you understandably want a physician who is empathetic and responsive to your needs, so all of your worries are addressed and your path to treatment is clear.Of course, finding a doctor you enjoy working with isn’t always an easy process. It can involve a lot of time, effort, money, and may even depend on where you live. But if you have the opportunity to consider multiple experts before you commit to one, you should try to do that.“Finding a doctor who is willing to listen to you and explain to you what dense breasts are, for example, is really important,” says Stallings. (It’s more difficult for mammograms to detect tumors in people with dense breasts, according to the National Cancer Institute. While dense breasts can be perfectly normal, they’re also a risk factor for breast cancer—and Black women tend to have denser breasts than white women3.)Stallings underwent genetic testing at age 29 and discovered she inherited the BRCA2 mutation, a harmful genetic variant that increases breast cancer risk. She decided to get a preventative double mastectomy (surgery to remove both breasts) to reduce her risk of breast cancer, but before she got the surgery, she interviewed multiple doctors until she was confident in her care team.“Don’t be afraid to fire a doctor and be willing to interview a lot of people to get what you’re looking for, even if that’s just feeling comfortable,” says Stallings, who participated in the Breast Cancer Research Fund’s “Research Is the Reason” storytelling initiative to give voice to young Black women who might need to consider the same difficult decision she did. “One of the things I love about my care team is that I felt really comfortable with them. They were super responsive to my questions. I also sought out people with empathy who saw me as a partner in my care process versus just dictating to me what I needed.”4. Get a second professional opinion if you can.Even if you’re happy with your doctor, Dr. Oppong recommends seeking a second opinion (or even a third!) without delaying your treatment, so you can explore how other experts would approach your care. Then, you can discuss the various treatments with the doctor you plan on seeing for your care and come up with a plan that you feel is the best for you. 

6 Things All Black Women Need to Know About Breast Cancer

6 Things All Black Women Need to Know About Breast Cancer

It’s not entirely understood why Black women are more at risk for these aggressive cancers, but there is likely a complex array of factors—both genetic and lifestyle—at play.Complicating matters, triple negative breast cancer can be especially difficult to treat because it doesn’t have estrogen receptors, progesterone receptors, or human epidermal growth factor. Breast cancers that do have these receptors receive signals from different hormones that tell them to grow. “A lot of our advances in breast cancer treatment have been in designing drugs that actually go to those receptors and block those receptors,” Carmen Guerra, M.D., M.S.C.E., associate professor of medicine at the Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania and volunteer leader and scientific officer for American Cancer Society National Board of Directors, tells SELF. That means TNBC, which already disproportionately affects Black women, is also much more difficult to treat because the science hasn’t caught up yet.But there is research in the works, like the TARA study, which is being led by Dr. Torres. The aim: treating a specific type of metastatic TNBC using a combination of radiation, immunotherapy, and targeted therapy. Dr. Torres says the hope is to stimulate tumors to make them more responsive to immunotherapy, which helps your own body attack and destroy cancer cells, after exposure to radiation.2. Many Black women don’t participate in clinical trials, often for reasons beyond their control.Like many other things, you have to be in the room where it happens to enact or experience change. In the case of breast cancer, that “room” can include clinical trials where new and innovative treatments are being offered. Unfortunately, for a myriad of reasons, including mistrust of the medical community based on both past and present experiences, lack of access, and simply not being diagnosed, Black women often don’t participate in clinical trials.In fact, from 1990 to 2010, between 80 and 90% of people with breast cancer who enrolled in practice-changing clinical trials were non-Hispanic white people5. This underrepresentation can hamper the proper development of treatments and understanding of their potential efficacy for Black women, who, as we mentioned, are already susceptible to breast cancers that are difficult to treat.“When therapies in these studies significantly improve outcomes and survival, the first patients to benefit are often not minorities,” says Dr. Torres. “When these trials lead to changes in standard practice, the uptake of these treatments into everyday practice may be slow given differences in provider knowledge and difficulties with insurance coverage often encountered with new and expensive, but highly effective, therapies.”To encourage more Black women to sign up for these trials—and actually increase access to these trials for those who are interested—Dr. Guerra says health care professionals have to leave the hospitals and go into the communities. Her research, which appears in a recent issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology6 did just that. By focusing on things like developing more culturally tailored marketing, including brochures and websites that featured the Black community, partnering with faith-based entities as well as individuals that have received treatment to speak with community members, providing transportation, and including a minority participation plan for every single trail, Dr. Guerra and her team were able to double clinical trial participation rates at the Abramson Cancer Center in Philadelphia among Black cancer patients over a four-year period.3. Black women tend to have denser breasts.Having dense breasts means you have more glandular and fibrous connective tissue than fat. Dense breasts can be normal and are in fact pretty common! Nearly half of all women 40 and older who get mammograms have dense breasts. But it’s also worth noting that they can be a risk factor for breast cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute. Women with dense breasts are 1.2 times more likely to develop breast cancer than those with average breast density. What’s more, Black women typically have denser breasts than white women.7,8 You can’t tell if you have dense breasts just by feel or firmness—a mammogram is the only way to know.

Why Black Women Still Don’t Get Adequate Care for Breast Cancer

Why Black Women Still Don’t Get Adequate Care for Breast Cancer

About 281,550 people in the U.S. will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year—and 43,600 will die from it, according to the American Cancer Society1. When we dig deeper into the numbers, it turns out there are racial disparities at play as seen with so many other health conditions, such as diabetes.White and Black people are diagnosed with breast cancer at roughly the same rate, but Black people are more likely to die from the disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention2. Between the years 2014-2018, CDC data shows that 27 out of 100,000 Black women died from breast cancer compared to 19 out of 10,000 white women. (The death rate for other groups of color is lower than Black women or white women.)Experts say there are a number of factors at play here, and SELF spoke to Oluchi Oke3, M.D., an oncologist at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, to learn more about the harrowing racial disparities in breast cancer. As a Black physician, Dr. Oke understands the importance of closing health care gaps for all patients. SELF: To start, what are the most common racial disparities we see in breast cancer?Dr. Oke: The disparities we see are in the onset of diagnosis—meaning at what stage of cancer people are diagnosed—and also in the overall percentage of people of a certain ethnicity that pass away from breast cancer. We see disparities in the type of breast cancer they get. And the average age for a breast cancer diagnosis is younger in Hispanic and Black individuals4.Black women are also more likely to be diagnosed with what’s called triple negative breast cancer, which can be hard to treat, and has a poor prognosis. It is more aggressive, so it grows faster, and we find it at a later stage. When we find it later, the cancer may have spread to lymph nodes or to another organ too. And so we are seeing more African American women dying from their breast cancer, partly just because they’re getting diagnosed later, and also because they’re being diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer.Lack of health insurance is a barrier in receiving timely screening to detect breast cancer early on and is a big reason that we see higher breast cancer death rates in Black women. The most well-known study related to this was published in 2017 by researchers at Emory University5 who reviewed information from over half a million people in the national cancer database. They looked at five factors that may impact the difference in outcome between Black versus Caucasian women with stage 1-3 breast cancer, including demographics, characteristics of cancer, comorbidities, health insurance, and type of treatment. The difference in health insurance was the biggest contributor to the difference in death rate for each group. They showed almost three times as many Black women were uninsured compared to white women, and 35% of the excess risk of death from breast cancer in Black women compared with white women was due to a difference in health insurance. The type of tumor also contributed to the increased risk of death, but not as significantly as the lack of insurance contributed.

5 Black Women Share How They Found the Strength to Thrive With Breast Cancer.

5 Black Women Share How They Found the Strength to Thrive With Breast Cancer.

Colden’s first two yearly mammograms were clear. On the third, there was a spot, but she was told by her doctor that things looked okay and it wasn’t cancer—she just had lumpy breasts.“There’s this inner feeling you have,” she says. “Something was inside me saying that’s not right.” Her sister’s doctor had told her the exact same thing, but Colden was so happy to hear she didn’t have cancer, she didn’t follow up.A year later, she went back for a mammogram, and that’s when her doctors found it: Stage 0 breast cancer, meaning only abnormal cells had been found.6 She was 42. “Now, looking back, I always tell women that if something doesn’t feel right, get a second opinion.”Despite the diagnosis, Colden remained calm. “I’m a religious person,” she says. “In my prayer, I said ‘Lord, if you will be my pilot on this journey, I’ll be your copilot.’” She immediately felt a sense of peace.After her recovery, she decided to share that calming presence with other women going through breast cancer at a support group through Roswell Park Cancer Center, where she had treatment. “I say, it’s going to be a long road. If you don’t want to travel it alone, I’m right there with you.”And she means it. Sometimes that involves talking with someone at 3 a.m. when the pain from chemotherapy hits. Other times it means sending food delivery boxes to the homes of people with breast cancer who can’t muster the strength to leave. “My sister did a lot of support work before she got really sick,” she says. “This is her vision.”5. “I quit my life and started a new one as an advocate.”Ricki Fairley, 65, was in the security line at the airport for a work trip when she got a call from her doctor. They’d found a peanut-like lump under her nipple that turned out to be cancer.Fairley, who was 55 at the time, said “I don’t have time for this right now. I’ll call you when I get to my destination.” A couple days later, she found out she had Stage 3A triple negative breast cancer (TNBC), and it was really aggressive. TNBC has fewer targeted therapy treatment options, often spreads beyond the breast, and is more likely to recur.7 Black women have nearly three times the risk of triple negative breast cancer8.Her diagnosis woke her up. “It made me realize that I needed to get all of the ‘cancers’ out of my life.” During treatment that first year, which involved a double mastectomy, aggressive chemotherapy, and radiation, she quit her job and started her own company. Then she filed for divorce and, later, sold her house. “I quit my life and started a new one, and changed everything,” she says. “I had to learn that my peace is non-negotiable. I really think that stress caused my breast cancer.”A year later, her life changed again. She was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, and was told she had two years to live. After finding out her current doctor had only treated two previous cases of TNBC, and both women had died in eight months, she found a new doctor, who was well-versed in current research and treatments for TNBC. She beat cancer a second time. “I remember sitting at my daughter’s graduation thinking ‘OK, I made it. What’s next for me?’”

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