“It won’t happen to me.” This kind of denial is just one of many factors – including reduced access to healthcare and lower education and awareness levels – leading African American women to be less proactive about checkups and screening tests critical to the timely diagnosis of breast and cervical cancers.
But national statistics tell us that this situation is contributing to dire consequences for Black women, who are dying of these malignancies in disproportionate numbers to other populations. While Caucasian women in the United States are diagnosed more frequently with breast cancer than any other group over the age of 40, data compiled from the SEER database indicates that African American women are approximately 1.4 times more likely to die from the disease. Cervical cancer also strikes African American women disproportionately, compared to Caucasians, making them twice as likely to die from the disease.
Some research suggests breast cancer is more aggressive in Black women, but as we move increasingly into a multi-ethnic culture with more biracial individuals, biologic factors affecting personal risk for women’s cancers can become murkier. For all these reasons, it’s crucial that African American women become more active participants in their own healthcare, both with their doctors and among family members.
First on the to-do list? A frank discussion with family elders – ideally from at least two generations – to review potential family history for breast and cervical cancers among previous generations. Older generations were much more likely to be hush-hush about cancer in the family and may not know specifics about the primary organs affected. But having this talk is a must. Write down their recollections for future reference.