Breast Cancer Doesn’t Discriminate

Breast Cancer women holding hands
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Breast cancer doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t respect age, gender, race, ethnicity, socio-economic status or a healthy life style.

Yet, it isn’t an equal opportunity disease. There are marked gender differences; it also occurs less often in different races and age groups. Different types of breast cancer are seen more frequently in one race over another often with less favorable outcomes.

A disease primarily of women, with 1 in 8 women in the U.S. developing an invasive breast cancer during her lifetime, it does occur in men at the rate of 2,000+ newly diagnosed breast cancers annually.

Those with genetic risk factors get breast cancer at far higher rates than those whose only risk factors are being a woman and aging. About 5-10% of breast cancers can be linked to gene mutations (abnormal changes) inherited from one’s mother or father. Mutations of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are the most common

A woman’s breast cancer risk almost doubles if her mother, sister, or daughter has had breast cancer.

About 85% of breast cancers happen in women with no family history of the disease.

The American Cancer Society’s statistics for 2015 estimate about 231,840 new cases of invasive breast cancer, and 62,290 new cases of carcinoma in situ (CIS), a non-invasive and early form of breast cancer. About 40,290 women will die from the disease.

Breast cancer in women under 40 accounts for 5% of those diagnosed annually. Breast cancer in young women is often more aggressive. Given that women in this age group don’t get mammograms, may not do self-breast exams or get comprehensive breast exams, their cancers may go undetected until they are more advanced.

The rates of developing and dying from breast cancer vary among different racial and ethnic groups.

According to the National Cancer Institute, white, non-Hispanic women have the highest overall breast cancer incidence rate among U.S. racial/ethnic groups. Native Americans and native Alaskans have the lowest incidence rate.

Breast cancer occurs most frequently in white women between the ages of 55 and 64. It occurs earlier in black and Hispanic women.

Black women, between the ages of 40-50 years of age have a higher rate of breast cancer than white women. Black women also have a greater chance of being diagnosed, at a younger age, with a more aggressive, advanced-stage breast cancer. They also have the highest death rate from breast cancer.

Hispanic/Latina women, on average, are diagnosed at a younger age than are non-Hispanic women (56 years old versus 61 years old). They are more likely to have large tumors with characteristics that predict poorer outcomes.

Asian women tend to get breast cancer at an earlier age than white women. They also have a higher proportion of dense breast tissue. Asian-American women have low rates of breast cancer screening, which increases their chances of later stage disease when they seek treatment. They have the lowest rate of mammogram screenings than any U.S. racial/ethnic group.

We cannot change our race or ethnicity, but we can practice a healthy lifestyle  and reduce our risk of getting breast cancer.

The death rate, in minority populations, can be lowered if more women are screened regularly and their breast cancers are found and treated at an earlier stage. There are many factors that result in women seeking care with late-stage disease, including: Limited awareness of breast cancer, lack of  health insurance, no access to preventative care, language barriers, mistrust of the health care system, and cultural beliefs in folk medicine.

In 2015, there are more than 2.8 million women with a history of breast cancer in the U.S. This includes women currently being treated and women who have finished treatment.

Sources: American Cancer Society, National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute, Centers for Disease Control

Jean Campbell is a 2x breast cancer survivor and the former founding director of the American Cancer Society New York City Patient Navigator Program in 14 public and private hospitals.She is executive director of  a nonprofit organization providing research and resource information and support to women and men newly diagnosed with breast cancer.

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