Sunday, October 18, 2009

Ignorance Is Not Bliss….Part 1: Breast Cancer

The Ignorance

“What you don’t know can’t hurt you.”

“If I don’t go to the doctor, he/she can’t find anything wrong.”

Ladies, ignorance is not a good look, ghetto fantasies and hood foolishness aside.

The Information

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month!!

Ladies (and the Gentlemen-Who-Love-You) if you are not informed about breast health, then this article is for you. First things first, get thee to the following websites for more in-depth information regarding breast cancer.

Susan G. Komen for the Cure (Komen)

American Cancer Society (ACS)

US Department of Health and Human Services

AA women have a lower incidence of cancer by population, meaning fewer AA women get breast cancer than white women (the incidence is higher for AA women under 40!!!!). Alarmingly, AA women die from breast cancer more often than any other population of women. Studies suggest issues such as access to screening; inadequate to non-existent medical follow-up of abnormal mammography results; lack of awareness of breast cancer screening in the AA population; as well as the biology of the cancer (i.e. more aggressive tumors and detection at later stage) contributes to the disturbing fact that AA women die more often from breast cancer.

A couple of years ago I watched a television documentary called Crazy Sexy Cancer. It is on Discovery Health Channel and I believe it is on multiple times in October. Crazy Sexy Cancer is a documentary about being diagnosed with cancer, going through the trauma and fear of the diagnosis, treatment, and survival from the point of view of woman who was diagnosed. A must see.

I also recently happened to catch Breast Cancer Examined: An African American Perspective on TVOne. I rarely watch TVOne, but this one hour documentary is worth watching!! The documentary focused on AA women and their distinct issues relating to breast cancer. Again AA women tend to have more aggressive types of cancer like HER2 and Triple Negative breast Cancer. Another must see program.

The Strategy

Breast Self-exam

A self-examination is performed by you on a monthly basis! You are the first responder when it comes to your health. It is important for you to know what is normal for you. Most women have some degree of density change in the breast tissue on a monthly cycle. Get to know your own breasts so you can more easily identify changes needing additional evaluation by a health care provider. Early detection produces the best results. Please visit the Komen website for detailed information (video) regarding how to conduct the exam.

Clinical Breast Exam

A clinical breast examination is performed by doctors, nurse practitioners, or other trained medical staff. Komen and ACS recommend a clinical breast examination once every three years for women between the ages of 20–39. The recommended frequency changes to once a year when a woman reaches the age of 40.


Mammograms are a screening tool using X-rays to create a visual image of the breast and is used to find signs of breast cancer such as tumors, small clusters of calcium deposits, and abnormal skins changes. A mammogram takes about 15 minutes. Komen and the ACS recommend annual mammograms for women starting at the age of 40.

I know what you’re going to say. Mammograms hurt. I have had a mammogram annually for the past 5 years or so, and any discomfort I have is minimal. Having my blood drawn is more ‘painful’ than having a mammogram. Be aware your breasts are more likely to be tender during the week before your period, so it is suggested not to schedule an exam at this time.

Ahem, breast implants are not a reason to skip annual mammograms.

Now, if you don’t conduct monthly self-examinations or you are not having mammography done on a regular basis (see above); then here are some
warning signs of breast cancer:

Lump or hard knot or thickening
Swelling, warmth, redness, or darkening
Change in the size or shape of the breast
Dimpling or puckering of the skin
Itchy, scaly, soreness or rash on the nipple
Pulling in of your nipple or other parts of the breast
Nipple discharge that starts suddenly
New pain in one spot that does not go away

If you have any of these symptoms you must see your health care provider immediately. If you don’t have a health care provider, visit the emergency room.

I am completely serious.

Detected early, breast cancer responds amazingly well to treatment. Currently AA women’s five-year breast cancer survival rate is 77 percent. For white women the survival rate is 90 percent. Only Native American women fare worse than AA women. We (AA women) can and must do better with regard to screening and early detection.

Ignorance = Death

We need to discuss breast cancer and other health issues openly and honestly. Stigma, shame, fears are all excuses we use to stay in denial. Denial can kill you.

Facing the reality of early diagnosis and early intervention means your chances of survival increase dramatically and you will live as a cancer survivor!

Staying in denial means that when you are diagnosed what you fear most, death, will be an all too real prognosis.


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