The statistics are all too clear — Black women in the U.S. are 42% more likely to die from breast cancer than white women, according to 2016 findings from the American Cancer Society. In fact, one in nine African-American women will be diagnosed with the disease in her lifetime. These numbers are far more frightening when you consider that Black women are often subject to discriminatory practices that impact the care they receive from medical professionals. Yet every day, Black women who find themselves face-to-face with this battle suit up and fight like hell. And many of them are winning.
Dr. April Spencer, the founder of Dr. Spencer Global Breast Health & Wellness Center in Atlanta and a Know Your Girls ambassador, spoke to ESSENCE exclusively about just how much breast cancer is impacting Black women and girls. “What makes African-American women unique is that the younger women, defined as women before the age of 45, have the highest rate of new breast cancer incidents,” she says. “That is alarming, and it is what makes our desire to [encourage] Black women to receive mammograms and testing even more significant.”
Reducing your risk of breast cancer involves several factors, and Dr. Spencer breaks it all down for us, simple as ABC.
A Is For Awareness
“You need to be aware of your body, your breasts, and what they feel like. Be aware of changes to your breast size, shape and changes to the skin underneath your arms. I’ve had lots of patients diagnosed with breast cancer who didn’t suspect it because they didn’t have a lump.”
B Is For Behavior
“There are things that women can do to lower their risk of breast cancer. They including maintaining a healthy weight, exercising daily and limiting alcoholic intake. In terms of your culinary choices, be mindful of what you’re eating. There’s no magic bullet in terms of the best diet, but there has been lots of research on the benefits of a Mediterranean diet, which is high in healthy fats like olive oil, and unsaturated fat like salmon. Every time you sit down [to eat], you’re either feeding disease or fighting disease. Also, women who have undergone menopause should limit their use of hormone therapy, as it can increase your risk.”
C Is For Chemoprevention
“Chemoprevention is just some women that may have the breast cancer gene may not be prepared to do a surgical option like removing their breast or removing their ovaries, but there are certain medications that can block the hormone estrogen that has been known to feed breast cancer, and so those medications, they have risks, so it’s important to talk to your doctor about the risk versus benefit of taking those medications, but that can lower the risk as well.
So ABC. Awareness of the body, B is behavior, and C is chemoprevention.
This article originally appeared in the October 2019 issue of ESSENCE Magazine, on newsstands now.