Each year as October rolls around the color pink takes center stage, bringing awareness regarding breast cancer through special events, product lines and media displays.
We need to care enough to go beyond the pink, taking the focus off breast cancer, and putting it on breast health and the preventive measures that can ward off this devastating disease.
We need to become educated regarding the risk factors associated with breast cancer, lifestyle choices that will help in maintaining breast health, advanced imaging technologies that can detect cancer in its earliest stages
October marked the release of sobering new research on breast cancer and changes in mammogram guidelines.
The new study, published Oct. 13 in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, found of more than 100,000 women diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010 and 2011, African-American and Hispanic women were more likely to be diagnosed at later stages. African-American women had a much higher risk of the disease being discovered at the most advanced, deadly stage. And African-American and Hispanic patients were up to 40 percent more likely to receive treatment not in line with breast cancer guidelines.
Advocates are more troubled than surprised by these findings. “Sadly, we’re well aware of these disparities,” says Brian Smedley, executive director of the National Collaborative for Health Equity. “Too often, the reaction is, ‘Here we go again – another study showing persistent disparities.’”
Last month the American Cancer Society revised its mammogram
Breast Cancer Screening: Going Beyond The ‘Pink’guidelines. Before, women were advised to start yearly mammograms at age 40. Now, the recommended starting age for women with average breast cancer risk is 45. Still, that’s younger than the recommendations of the influential U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, whose guidelines suggest mammograms start at 50, with follow-up scans every other year.
Previous studies have shown survival gaps, with African-American women significantly more likely to die from breast cancer. “The difference in mortality rates represents who gets access to quality care,” says Linda Goler Blount, president and CEO of the Black Women’s Health Imperative. “They also represent when women of color, particularly African-Americans and Latinas, get their breast cancer diagnosed. [That] tends to be a much later stage, when the prognosis isn’t as good.”
Blount’s group is concerned about the task force’s recommendations. “Since a woman of color is likely to get her breast cancer diagnosed at a younger age, [with] the guidelines up to 50, those in their 20s and 30s will miss out.”
To detect breast cancer early, doctors must think beyond age alone, Blount says. “Providers need to talk to black women and women with dense breast tissue in their 30s, especially if there’s any family history at all on either side – mom or dad,” she says. “Providers should get a baseline mammogram done early as possible and then follow women with regular visits and mammograms.”