3 Breast Cancer Organizations Every Black Woman Should Know About
Last year, a woman was diagnosed with breast cancer every three minutes, according to Susan G. Komen. This year? Every two minutes, a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer. Want to know what’s even scarier? Although African-American women tend to be diagnosed with breast cancer less often than Caucasian women, we’re more likely to die from the disease. In fact, the five-year relative survival rate for Black women is 78 percent compared to 90 percent among Caucasian women. The following organizations are working to change that.
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1. Sisters Network, Inc.
Twenty years ago, when Sisters Network Inc., the only national African-American breast cancer survivorship organization, was established, founder Karen E. Jackson was frustrated with the lack of “sisterhood” in some of the more traditional organizations. She was also disturbed by the staggering mortality rate among Black women diagnosed with breast cancer. It was then that her mission became clear: Create a space where Black women can go to receive the education, emotional and financial support, and any other resources they may need during their journeys.
As an 18-year breast cancer survivor, Jackson is committed to educating Black women on and bringing national attention to a disease that’s expected to kill nearly 7,000 of us this year alone. For instance, the non-profit hosts its annual Stop the Silence Walk – the only national African-American breast cancer 5K walk/run – each year. With the event attracting about 8,000 participants from around the country, 100 percent of the proceeds go toward Sister Network’s Breast Cancer Assistance program, which provides financial assistance for prescriptions, co-pay and office visits, and prosthesis, just to name a few.
Sisters Network, Inc. offers several other programs – all of which are dedicated getting Black women to understand that breast cancer is not “an older white woman’s disease.”
To learn more about Sisters Network, Inc., visit www.sistersnetworkinc.org.
2. Black Women’s Health Imperative
Established in 1983, the Black Women’s Health Imperative (BWHI) is perhaps the oldest known organization devoted to advancing the health and wellness of African-American women everywhere. BWHI not only focuses on breast cancer, they also take on a range of other health issues, including cervical cancer, reproductive health, and HIV/AIDS that affect Black women and their families.
One of the biggest reasons why African-American women tend to have higher mortality rates as it relates to breast cancer is attributed to the fact that they’re often diagnosed at later stages when the cancer has already spread. In efforts to help bridge the disparity gap, the organization encourages Black women make their health a priority by doing three things: 1) Get into the routine of performing monthly breast self-examinations, 2) See your doctor for a clinical breast examination at least once a year, and 3) Start having regular mammograms once you hit the age 40. Why? Because early detection can save lives.
To learn more about the Black Women’s Health Imperative, visit www.bwhi.org.
3. African-American Breast Cancer Alliance
Like Sisters Network, Inc., the African American Breast Cancer Alliance (AABCA) organization is solely dedicated to the breast cancer crisis among Black women. Founded in 1990, AABCA provides emotional support for breast cancer patients and survivors. The goal, essentially, is to empower, educate and inspire women to take control of their health.
The organization offers monthly cancer survivor support meetings as a way for women to share their experiences and develop friendships with fellow survivors. The meetings include lunch and special presentations on selected topics ranging from cancer treatments to stress management. There’s also a weekend retreat, where survivors can go to have fun, laugh, relax and get pampered without worrying about cancer.
Last but not least, AABCA participates in several community events, including the Breast Cancer Awareness Association Conference and the Komen Race for the Cure. They also give presentations regarding cancer education to women of all ages and other healthcare organizations upon request.
To learn more about the African American Breast Cancer Alliance, visit www.aabcainc.org.
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‘Egg Freezing’: Hope Over Hype
With early detection and treatment, women diagnosed with breast cancer are surviving at increasing rates. Unfortunately, successful treatment in reproductive-age women often leads to lower fertility or even early menopause. Chemotherapy drugs used to treat cancer and some noncancerous conditions like lupus can cause permanent damage to the ovaries, making it hard for a woman to conceive after her treatment ends. Due to advances in reproductive medicine, many women diagnosed with breast cancer are able to start fertility preservation treatment prior to chemotherapy and then pursue pregnancy once their health is restored. Currently available fertility preservation treatments are oocyte (egg) and embryo cryopreservation or freezing.
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All women will have a natural decline in ovarian function and egg supply over time. This process begins at birth and completes at menopause. No medical therapy can halt natural ovarian aging. Oocyte cryopreservation (“egg freezing”) is a medical procedure through which a woman’s eggs can be harvested and frozen and then thawed, fertilized and transferred to the uterus as embryos at a later date.
How It Works
The technique for egg freezing is the same as that used for in-vitro fertilization. A woman self-administers hormone injections for about 10-12 days to stimulate multiple eggs to grow in the ovaries. Once the eggs are developed, a needle is inserted into the ovary and the eggs are removed. The length of an egg freezing treatment cycle is approximately 4-6 weeks, and eggs can remain frozen long-term. Laboratory methods for egg freezing have improved considerably in the last 10 years and pregnancy rates with frozen eggs may be comparable to those with fresh eggs.
Women who undergo fertility preservation and have a current male partner or sperm donor can fertilize eggs right away and then freeze embryos for later use. If embryos are healthy at the time they are frozen, the chance of pregnancy is very good. Pregnancy rates are not affected by the woman’s age when she returns to use her frozen eggs or embryos.
Is Freezing Right For You?
Due to aging effects on egg number and egg quality, the best time to freeze your eggs is when you are in your mid-30s or younger. If you are considering egg freezing, for medical reasons or otherwise, you should consult with a fertility specialist. If you’ve been recently diagnosed with cancer, fertility preservation treatments can usually be started within a few days, to avoid significant delay in your cancer treatment.
A simple ultrasound and blood work can determine if the egg supply is normal and if you would be a good candidate for egg freezing. Once eggs are frozen, they can be safely stored for years until you are ready for pregnancy. Any plans for egg or embryo freezing should be discussed between your oncologist and fertility specialist to ensure that it is safe to proceed.
Visit the BlackDoctor.org Womens Health center for more articles.
Dr. Desiree McCarthy-Keith M.P.H. and MD is a female Obstetrician & Gynecologist, has 11 years of experience and practices in Obstetrics & Gynecology and Reproductive Endocrinology. For more information, visitwww.ivf.com.