February is Black History Month, a time when we celebrate the contributions African Americans have made to our country. But even as we celebrate, we must remember that African Americans suffer the highest cancer mortality rate of any racial or ethnic group in the US. Here in Louisiana, white and black women are diagnosed with breast cancer at equal rates, but black women are more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer before age 45, and are more likely to die from the disease. These disparities have been linked to a host of factors, including genetics and the fact that black women’s breast cancer is often more advanced when it is first diagnosed.
At the Louisiana Breast and Cervical Health Program, we’re using February as a time to reflect on what we can do to address these disparities, and we’d like to encourage others to do the same. As a patient, you should tell your doctor if you have a family history of breast cancer, especially if you have relatives who were diagnosed with breast cancer before age 45. Your doctor may recommend that you begin screening younger, and that you undergo testing to see if you have the BRCA genes, which put you at increased risk of developing breast and other cancers. You should also monitor your breasts regularly for all of the signs of breast cancer, not just lumps (the “Know Your Lemons” campaign is a helpful guide to alternate symptoms: http://mashable.com/2017/01/16/lemons-visual-signs-breast-cancer/#GOy_g2VEmZqL). As a provider, you can encourage your patients to gather and share their family health history (this form can help: https://www.brightpink.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/HealthHistory.pdf). And as a friend or loved one, you can encourage the women in your life to get mammograms regularly.
If you or someone you know needs help getting a mammogram, LBCHP can help. Click here to find out if you qualify for a no-cost mammogram: http://lbchp.org/program-eligibility/.
- Amelia Robert, LCP Communications Student Worker