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Real Talk: Protect Your Breasts

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I would be remiss if I let October aka Breast Cancer Awareness month, pass without writing about it here. Allow me to spare you a day of lighthearted ranting or celebrity news updates to write about something more important: saving your life.

Comedienne and actress (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”) Wanda Sykes, 47, visited "The Ellen DeGeneres Show” in September and revealed she was diagnosed with breast cancer earlier this year. The cancer was found after she had undergone a breast reduction. Although her health scare was discovered in the earliest stages, Sykes elected to have a double mastectomy in August. (Note: Studies show it reduces the risk of developing breast cancer by 90 percent in moderate to high-risk women,” according to the Mayo Clinic.)

“I made my decision (for the double mastectomy) because I love life and I know I’m blessed,” Sykes, who raises two-and-a-half-year-old twins with her wife, Alex, told People Magazine. “The kids are also a huge part because you want to be around for them. My scars? I barely see them. I feel whole; I really do. Because every day, I get to say, ‘There’s no cancer.’ I’m healthy, and that’s beautiful.”

She joked that she was reluctant to come forward about her diagnosis and treatment. “I'm Black, then lesbian,” she said. “I can't be the poster child for everything... at least with the LGBT issues we get a parade, we get a float, it's a party. [But] I was real hesitant about doing this, because I hate walking. I got a lot of [cancer] walks coming up.”

Sykes is just one of 27,000 African-American women are expected to be diagnosed with breast cancer this year, the most common cancer among our demographic. (Two-hundred-thousand cases will be diagnosed overall; and 1 in 8 women are expected to receive a diagnosis during the course of her lifetime.) African-Americans are also more likely to develop cancer under 45 than any other group.

There is some good news: Black women are less likely than white women to be diagnosed with breast cancer. However, beginning in their 20s and into their 50s, black women are twice as likely to die of breast cancer as white women. Part of the reason is because Black women are more likely to be diagnosed at later stages, when cancer has spread beyond the breast -- and when it is more difficult to treat.

For early detection of breast cancer, the American Cancer Society recommends women in their 20s and 30s have a screening mammogram as part of a periodic (regular) health exam at least every 3 years. (Women who are at higher than average risk of breast cancer, such as those with a family history of the disease should talk with their health care provider about whether to have mammograms before age 40 and how often to have them.) After age 40, women should have a screening mammogram every year.

Have you been screened for breast cancer? Why or why not?

Demetria L. Lucas is the author of “A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life” (Atria) in stores now. Follow her on Twitter at @abelleinbk
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