Your road to breast cancer survival and prevention is paved with extra precautions. In order to keep cancer from occurring or to catch it quickly if it returns, you should know the unique risk factors your race and ethnicity pose for your health.
According to the American Cancer Society, white women are more likely to get breast cancer, but African-American women are 40 percent more likely to die from the disease. While studies have linked this survivor rate gap to more aggressive cancers in minority women, there are also links between diminished follow-up care in the minority population, decreasing their chance of breast cancer survival. Once treatment ends, minority women are less likely to receive the care necessary to detect any abnormalities that affect cancer return rates.
Breast cancer doesn’t just affect white and African-American women differently. Latina women are more likely to contract genetic forms of breast cancer, according to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. In the study, 25 percent of the Latina women tested were positive for the BRCA mutation. While the high prevalence of hereditary breast cancer in Latina women is still being studied, it gives clinicians a heads-up to be extra vigilant with breast cancer precautions specifically within this population.
These statistics are scary. If you and your doctor are proactive and focus on a plan that encompasses screening and early detection, symptom management and advanced treatment options (if you’re diagnosed) and responsible follow-up care, your chances of survival are much better.
If You’re Looking for Prevention
Plan to give yourself a breast self-examination monthly, reporting any odd findings to your doctor immediately. Mammograms are also recommended, though the timing is confusing. According to UVA Breast Care Program radiologists, women should receive annual mammograms beginning at the age of 40 and younger for women with risk factors. Ask your doctor what’s right for you. If money is a concern, which Susan G. Komen for the Cure says is a large reason why breast cancer screenings have a racial gap, talk to your doctor about free or low-cost options available.
Women who have a family history of breast cancer should inquire about earlier mammograms as well as genetic testing. Latina women, especially, should keep up with this preventative screening measure because of the demonstrated link between them and BRCA mutations. If your doctor doesn’t mention genetic screening, ask about it or see another doctor for a second opinion. The cost of genetic testing has decreased over time, so don’t let the fear of a high price tag for testing stop you from looking into it.
If You’re Going Through Treatment
Once diagnosed with breast cancer, oncologists and other clinicians work together to develop a treatment plan. Each plan is unique, based on your health and conditions. However, plans can include chemotherapy, radiation, lumpectomies, surgery and reconstruction. When in the midst of treatment, side effects run rampant, making it difficult to navigate this time alone. Keep your support team of friends, family and doctors well-informed of your basic and health-related needs. Seek out help from support groups or counseling services if necessary.
If You Need Follow-Up Care
After surgery or receiving a “cancer free” scan, you’re still not out of the woods. Follow-up care is paramount for early detection of returning cancer. You should ensure you have access to your doctor and any treatments going forward. If you doctor’s office is far away from your home, inquire if they have a treatment center near your home. As well, if financial or insurance issues arise, talk to your doctor or support group about different payment plans or options to alleviate that burden.
From prevention tactics to after-the-fact care, everything plays a part in breast cancer survival. For minority women, it can seem that the situation is even worse. However, with the right approach to prevention and follow-up monitoring, you can bridge the survival gap.
Making sure you get a mammogram when your doctor recommends it helps bridge the breast cancer gap for minority women. The UVA Breast Care Program has the most advanced screening technology available and dedicated breast radiologists.Learn More