One of the keys to successfully defeating breast cancer is catching it early. It has been estimated that finding breast cancer early can mean a survival rate of 97%. One part of catching breast cancer early in black women is to develop a breast cancer screening programme for black women that start earlier. Currently breast cancer screening in the UK starts at 50 years old and as we now know that a significant number of black women develop breast cancer on average in their mid forties it would thus be more effective to begin screening black women at an earlier age. The second part of catching breast cancer early is to create a greater awareness amongst black women about the signs and symptoms of breast cancer. Armed with this information black women must endeavour to carry out a regular breast self examinations looking out for changes in their breasts that are not associated with menstruation. The signs and symptoms to look our for include:
- Changes in the size and shape of breasts
- Changes in the skin texture – puckering, dimpling
- An inverted/retracted nipple
- A bloodstained discharge from one or both nipples
- A lump in the breast or armpit
- Pain in the breast that doesn’t go away with your period
What is Cancer?
To understand cancer we have to have some appreciation of human biology. Our body is made up of minuscule entities called cells; these are the basic unit of life. Similar types of cells come together to form our tissues (e.g: muscle tissue, brain tissue etc), groups of tissues form our organs and then organs come together to form systems (e.g: cardio- vascular system, nervous system). Cancer is a disease of the smallest unit of our body – the cell. It develops when cells within our body obtain a series of defects that result in their uncontrollable growth. These cells are thus able to grow and divide into multiple defective cells that form a mass called a tumour.
For black women the news is good and bad. Good because black women are significantly less likely (one-third less likely) to develop breast cancer than white women. The bad news is that a higher percentage of black women die from breast cancer than white women. Studies in the US have shown that black women are 30% more likely to die from breast cancer and in the UK it has been shown that black women are two times more likely to die from breast cancer. In addition to this, numerous studies have shown that when black women do get cancer they tend to get it at a much younger age than white women with a recent study in the UK showing that black women are diagnosed with breast cancer 20 years younger than white women, (an average of 46 years old compared to an average of 67 years old for white women).