This week, a government task force issued new recommendations about breast screening that raised more issues than it resolved. The US Preventive Services Task Force said women 40-49 didn’t need regular mammograms and women over 50 should move from yearly screenings to every other year. Most major cancer organizations disagreed with the task force, and most women were left wondering, “What do I do now?” The question for African-American women is more urgent, because too few African-American women are getting annual mammograms and breast screenings under the rules that exist today. Maybe it’s fear of the unknown or lack of access. In any event, it’s a growing tragedy, because while African-American women are less likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer, we are more likely to die from it. And a lot of those deaths could be avoided by paying attention to breast health. For the record, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the world’s leading breast cancer organization, is continuing to recommend annual mammograms for women in their 40s and older. We do so because we know that mammograms and early detection save lives. Waiting or ignoring screening often means that breast cancer is diagnosed at very late stages, when it’s more difficult to treat. We also worry about those cancers that mammography might not catch – like triple negative breast cancer which is more prevalent in African-American women. Knowing how your breasts should look and feel, and reporting changes to a health care provider immediately, could very well save your life. Komen for the Cure has started the Circle of Promise movement designed specifically for African-American women. We promise to create a community of women watching out for each other, reminding us to get mammograms, offering support and strength as we work to eliminate this disease from the face of the earth. As a breast cancer survivor myself, and chairman of the Komen Board of Directors, I urge all women, but especially African-American women under 50, to pay attention to their breast health. We have plenty of resources for you at Komen: if you’re worried, we have community to see you through. If you’re unsure where to go, we have people to call. If you’re uninsured or under-insured, we have help for you, too. Please visit www.circleofpromise.org and join us. Demand that your loved ones take care of themselves. And let’s take care of one another, too.
Alexine Clement Jackson, Chair of Susan G. Komen for the Cure Board of Directors