Discussing Breast Cancer Disparities: African American Women

by Shannon Arner

Dr. Ericka Griffin is the Medical Director of Eastern Radiologists’ Breast Imaging Center in Greenville, North Carolina. She also serves as an affiliate associate Professor of Radiology for the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University. 

Dr. Griffin is knowledgeable in the latest breast imaging technology such as tomosynthesis, contrast enhanced mammography and MRI. She performs diagnostic breast procedures and biopsies using the most up-to-date technology. 

In addition to leading Eastern Radiologists’ Breast Imaging section, Dr. Griffin is passionate about women’s health, more specifically, being proactive about early detection, through annual screening mammograms for women, 40 and over. She is an advocate of lung, cervical, colon cancer screening and health maintenance in women.

Recently, Dr. Griffin addressed the topic of Breast Cancer Disparities, more specifically, breast cancer and the relation to African American Women. 

Did you know that breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths among women in the United States? 

In fact, African-American women are 42% more likely to die of breast cancer than white women. The first leading cause of cancer death is lung cancer. 

It is a misconception that the cause of the disparity is that African-American women do not go to get their annual mammograms. In fact, African-American women, 40 and older, are the highest-ranking percentage to have a mammogram within the past two years, according to a 2015 study by the American Cancer Society. 

When should you have your first mammogram?

All women should be aware of their family history and risk factors by the age of 30. A risk assessment will determine the need for screening before the age of 40. African-American women are more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer at later stages of the disease. 12.4% of African-Americans with breast cancer present under the age of 40.

Why is there a disparity?

Long intervals between screening, lack of timely follow-up of suspicious results, and delays in treatment, after-diagnosis, all contribute to the disparity. African-American women are three times more likely to be affected by triple negative breast cancer than White or Hispanic women. Triple negative cancer has a poorer prognosis.

So, how do we close the gap?

• Early detection- women diagnosed early (Stage 0 or 1) have 98% chance of at least a 5-year survival. 

• Know your family history- all women, especially African-American women should be evaluated for breast cancer risk no later than age 30.

• Breast awareness- perform monthly self-breast exams. Note any changes that may occur and discuss them with your doctor. 

• Exercise and eat healthy- obesity is a key risk factor for developing breast cancer. Be sure to exercise and eat your vegetables! 

• Quit smoking- smoking causes a number of diseases and is linked to a higher risk of breast cancer in younger pre-menopausal women. 

• Limit alcohol- compared to women who do not drink at all, women who have 3 alcoholic drinks per week have a 15% higher risk of breast cancer.

What does Dr. Griffin want you to take home from this article?

If you are an African-American woman, talk with your doctor about a risk assessment for breast cancer at age 30 to determine the need for high-risk screening. Screening should start annually at age 40 for average risk. You should also make healthy lifestyle choices, and make informed decisions about treatment. It is always a good idea to take someone with you to doctor appointments. A second ear can help you separate emotions from facts, and widens the net to receive all of the information presented, as well as ask questions you may forget to ask. 

Your health is ultimately your responsibility!

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