Early detection can be a matter of life or death
The American Cancer Society (ACS) says breast cancer is the most common cancer (except for skin cancer) that women may face in their lifetime at any age, but the risk goes up as you get older. In their “Cancer Facts for Women” pamphlet, ACS points out:
- Women ages 40 to 44 should begin getting annual breast cancer screenings with mammograms if they wish to do so.
- Women ages 45 to 54 should get mammograms every year.
- Women 55 and older should get mammograms every two years, or get yearly screenings.
However, among some health experts there has been disagreement on whether women should get mammograms every year or every other year.
“Screening is not perfect,” states University of Minnesota Masonic Cancer Center Director Douglas Yee, an oncologist and medical professor. But he says that mammograms are recommended for all women, especially Black women, because if something is found early “It is 95 percent curable,” notes Yee.
ACS Health System Manager Benita Robinson strongly urges all women, especially Black women, to get screened. “Because I am African American, I am really concerned about African American women. Also, working in the faith-based community, it is a blessing to me because I am a pastor’s wife and minister with my husband. I am also a women’s health advocate and a community health worker trying to steer women in the right direction.”
Even more alarming, a recent Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report found that although U.S. breast cancer cases are declining for White women, Black women, especially older Black women, are more likely to die from breast cancer than their White counterparts.
“We [as Black women] die more often because it’s a late diagnosis or we get diagnosed but a lot of times it’s a very aggressive cancer,” continues Robinson, whose mother died of breast cancer at age 46 when her daughter was 19. “She had stage 4 breast cancer,” Robinson recalls.
This is why Robinson strongly urges Black women to get a mammogram. “A mammogram can detect something very small that you can’t feel with your fingers,” she explains. “I don’t know if she [her mother] had a mammogram. By the time [doctors] discovered it, it was too late. If she could have had a mammogram of if there was a free screening program for her, she might still be here.
“That’s where my heart, passion and drive to do the work that I am doing comes from,” admits Robinson. She spoke to the MSR while setting up a free-to-the-public mammogram screening in Wayman AME Church’s parking lot in North Minneapolis after Sunday, November 13 services.
Yee emphasizes that if there is “a strong family history” of breast cancer in your family, mammograms are even more important. There are free screenings available — the Minnesota Department of Health has a current screening program, notes the doctor.
With two sisters and an adult daughter, “I am trying to make sure I can help them and the other women I come across to live long and healthy lives,” said Robinson.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.