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Prevention is the key to a healthy community

10/24/2013, 5:57 p.m. | Updated on 10/29/2013, 1:41 p.m.
Mollie Finch Belt, publisher of The Dallas Examiner

The Dallas Examiner

Sixty-nine years ago my grandmother died of breast cancer. She may have lived if she had access to medical care. She lived in Dallas in 1944. Dallas was a segregated city at that time. Access to medical care was far from equal even though we had Black physicians.

I didn’t have an opportunity to know my grandmother. My memories of her are from what my mother told me. I am named after her and I am told that she was a very sweet, kind woman who worked hard to support her son, Fred, and make sure that he had an opportunity for an education.

Last month, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. A screening mammogram detected an abnormal cell in my breast. It was biopsied and technicians determined it was cancer. Fortunately, it was discovered early. Early detection is key – mammograms can often detect cancer cells early in the breast.

Breast cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer death in our community. Though the actual risk of breast cancer in a Black woman’s lifetime is lower than White women, our death rates are significantly higher, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office on Minority Health.

Statistics are high for Black women dying of breast cancer because we don’t take advantage of medical testing that is available. Therefore, we are usually not diagnosed until we are in the advanced stages of the disease.

According to a study by the Journal of the American Medical Association, African American women are not as likely to survive breast cancer within a five-year diagnosis. And if that’s not enough, the Black Women’s Health Imperative reveals that breast cancer appears in Black women at a younger age and in more advanced forms. In fact, we are twice as likely to develop triple negative breast cancer that’s so aggressive it has few effective treatments to combat it compared to White women.

Unfortunately, mammograms are not free and access to medical care has been limited to a large segment of African American women. However with the Affordable Care Act, African American women will have access to medical care.

Clinical breast exams and mammograms are key, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office on Women’s Health. Regular breast screenings are an essential tool that can possibly save your life. You should have your practitioner perform a breast exam at least once a year (typically during your physical checkup) and begin mammograms annually starting at age 40.

Those with a family history of breast cancer, however, may be recommended to begin mammograms earlier. The Black Women’s Health Imperative also adds that African American women in particular should request a digital mammography if available as our breasts tend to be much denser than other women which can pose an issue with standard detection methods.

“One mammogram is not enough!” Phillipa Woodriffe, MD, points out. Regardless of what age you begin your annual mammogram, stick with it as the fewer screenings you get the more likely the cancer will grow undetected