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Patient Advocate Foundation
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Home > Resources > PAF Publications > PAF Guides & Major Publications > A Healthier African Am Community > Cancers > Breast Cancer

Breast Cancer
Breast Cancer is the most common cancer found among African American women and the second leading cause of cancer death for women. African American women are usually diagnosed at a younger age, the cancer is more aggressive and is often in an advanced stage at diagnosis. Most people consider breast cancer strictly a women’s disease, but men are also at risk of developing breast cancer.

The fear factor often causes African Americans to delay medical screening or ignore breast lumps found during self breast exams. Myths about cancer, social stigma, denial, poverty, and lack of health insurance also contribute to delays in accessto care and treatment.

Signs and Symptoms:
  • A lump is detected, which is usually firm and most often painless
  • A portion of the skin on the breast or underarm swells and has an unusual appearance
  • Veins on the skin’s surface become more prominent on one breast
  • The breast nipple can become inverted, develop a rash, change skin texture, or have a discharge other than breast milk
  • A depression is found in an area of the breast surface

Women’s breasts can develop some degree of lumpiness, but only a small percentage of lumps are found to be cancer.

African Americans and Breast Cancer
While African Americans are less likely to develop breast cancer than other ethnic groups, they are more likely to experience delays in diagnosis and treatment. Income, lack of health insurance and no access to screening account for some but not all of the delays. In other words, many African Americans wait too long to seek treatment. A majority of breast cancer cases occur in women with no identifiable risks and often have no symptoms. Some factors cannot be controlled such as age, gender, personal and family history, and early menopause.

Risk factors:
  • Lack of cancer screening and follow up of abnormal results
  • Physical inactivity
  • Diet and nutrition
  • Overweight and obesity
  • Excessive alcohol use
  • Smoking
  • Not having children or having first child after age 30
  • Radiation Therapy to the chest or upper body to treat Hodgkin’s Disease, Thyroid conditions or other cancers
  • Environmental factors

Prevention/Best Defense
  • Personalized risk assessment
  • Early screening - Annual mammography should begin at age 40 (or as directed by a medical professional) and then as recommended
  • Annual clinical breast exam by medical
    professional beginning at age 20
  • Monthly self breast exam