Breast Cancer Prevention

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Early detection of breast cancer is a significant issue for Black women and all women. One of the most powerful steps to take for good health is to get regular checkups and ask for tests that will detect cancer. Cancer at its earliest stage rarely has warning signs. Hence, the best protection against breast cancer is early detection and prompt treatment. Numerous studies have shown that early detection increases survival and treatment options. If the cancer is detected and has not spread, the survival rate is 94%; if it has spread to nearly organs, the survival rate is 73%; if it has spread throughout the body, the survival rate is 18%.


The American Cancer Society recommends the following guidelines for early detection of breast cancer:


Women aged 40 and over should have an annual clinical breast exam performed by a health care professional, and should perform monthly breast self-examination.


Women 20 to 39 should have a clinical breast exam performed by a health care professional every three years and should perform monthly breast self-examination.

Mammograms are essential for identifying breast abnormalities at early states before any physical symptoms develop. Mammography can detect breast cancer 1.7 years before a women can feel a lump in her breast. In addition, breast self-examinations are responsible for detection of a large percentage of breast abnormalities. Coupled together, mammograms and breast self-examinations have proven to be the most effective methods of detecting and diagnosing breast cancer.

Barriers to Early Diagnosis and Treatment

There are several factors that contribute to the racial disparity of breast cancer between African American and White women. Researchers have found that:


Cultural and socioeconomic circumstances may predispose African Americans to higher mortality rates due to limited access to screening, early detection and treatment of breast cancer.


Cultural beliefs and fear of radiation were also associated with preventing some African American women from seeking cancer screening.


African American women under-utilize breast cancer screening services. Research reveals that African American women are not as likely as White women to seek mammograms and more likely to delay reporting signs and symptoms of breast cancer to their doctors.


African American women are more likely to miss health care appointments after diagnosis.


The racial differences in diagnosis and treatment have also been linked to:


Lower socioeconomic status


Lack of access to appropriate medical services


Lack of private health insurance

It is impossible to predict who will or will not get breast cancer. No women is exempt from the possibility of developing breast cancer. Therefore, it is very important that every women become familiar with the disease, the measures they can take to reduce their risks and things they can do to increase their chance of detecting the disease at its earliest and most treatable stages. Outreach efforts have heightened to improve the perceived cultural barriers to breast cancer screenings among African American women by linking cultural intervention strategies to breast cancer screening initiatives.



The American Cancer Society. ACS News Today, 2000.

The American Cancer Society Cancer Facts and Figures, 1999 (

National Institutes of Health National Cancer Institute

Health Resources and Services Administrative, Bureau of Primary Health Care Breast Cancer Awareness

The National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program (


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Philadelphia Black Women's Health Project 2002