Black women should be receiving mammograms much earlier than previously thought, according to a new study.
Published in the JAMA Network Open Journal, the study determined that Black women should start getting screened for breast cancer at 42 — nearly a decade before most practitioners recommended a patient get checked.
According to Coral O. Omene, MD, Ph.D., program director of Breast Cancer Disparities Research and medical oncologist in the Breast Oncology Program at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, this revelation is far behind schedule.
Omene emphasized that the findings confirm that Black women are disproportionately negatively affected by breast cancer, which researchers have suspected for a while. Black women have a higher incidence of aggressive subtypes of breast cancer, such as triple negative breast cancer, which occurs at earlier ages in the Black community.
“We know that horrible [statistic] of Black women having a higher mortality rate up to 41 percent higher than their non-Black counterparts. That ... is horrendous. And that is a crisis,” Omene told Blavity.
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The disparity is “multifactorial,” but biology is one of largest contributing factors, according to the report. There are mutations of genes related to breast cancer that are pathogenic which means that they have an extremely high chance of causing breast cancer over the lifetime of that patient.The mutation can even cause the patient to be up to 85 times more likely to have breast cancer.
Although there are many external risk factors which include smoking and alcohol use, the biggest one that compromises Black women is obesity, which they are disproportionately affected by.
A majority of Black communities are in food deserts, which means they lack access quality food. This causes them to rely on fast food or unhealthy foods for sustenance. Obesity causes chronic inflammation in our tissues that can lead to gene mutations over time. Such internal changes increase risk for cancers beyond breast cancer.
Age is also a factor that is worth noting as it pertains to breast cancer. The older a woman gets, the more she is to develop breast cancer. But that doesn’t mean young women don’t develop breast cancer, Omene stressed.
When it comes to mammograms, breast cancer studies have typically ignored how the disease affects communities of color and typically recommends beginning to get cancer screenings at 50 “biannually.” However, Omene noted that within her profession, they’ve always maintained that women at average risk should start getting tested at 40.
“The next best thing is to try to make sure you’re doing your detection,” she said. “Go to your screenings on time without fail, because that’s the way to ensure that you catch things early.”
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