Thursday, April 20, 2006—Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women and the second most deadly. It remains the leading cancer killer among African-American women. In fact, every three minutes a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer; every 12 minutes a woman dies from breast cancer and every year, over 5000 African American women die from the disease, according to

Further evidence from the American Cancer Society shows that African-American women with breast cancer are 67 percent more likely to die from the disease than their white counterparts, according to a study published in a recent issue of the journal Cancer (Vol. 88, No. 1).

Though African American women have less incidence of developing the disease, their chances of survival are less than their white counterparts, once diagnosed. Although the cause of breast cancer is still unclear, researchers have determined that African American women tend to develop breast cancer at earlier ages than white women and they typically develop more aggressive types of tumors.

Hugh F. Stallworth, MD, MPH, National Vice President of Cancer Risks at the American Cancer Society (ACS) puts up a good argument for early detection. “African-American women don’t get breast cancer at a higher rate than white women, but they die from it at a higher rate,” she said. What does this mean? There is an increased need for public health measures designed to shed light on breast cancer education and screening among African-American women.

Researchers pointed out that African-American women are not as likely as white women to seek mammograms and are more likely to delay reporting signs and symptoms of breast cancer to their doctors. They are also more likely to miss health care appointments after diagnosis and experience more obesity, which has been linked to diagnosis at a later stage and poorer outcomes.

Regardless of the socioeconomic factors that may contribute to the high death rate for African American women, however, medical professionals agree that early detection is paramount to surviving breast cancer. As a result, they have issued a number of recommendations to help African American women detect breast cancer in its earliest stages and improve their chances of survival. Recommendations include the following:

* Practice monthly breast self-examinations starting at the age of 20.

* Have a clinical breast examination, done by their physician, at least once a year.

* Have at least one mammogram completed, between the ages of 30 and 35.

* Have a mammogram completed every one to two years until the age of 50.

* After 50, African American women should have an annual mammogram.

If one thing is certain, African American women must stress the need for early detection, become familiar with their family history and personal risk, and screen and test their breasts as often as possible.