Black Women and Breast Cancer

Surviving Breast Cancer through Early Detection and Diagnosis

The Issue

Nothing speaks more clearly to the shocking breast cancer health disparities than the fact that Black women are less likely than white women to get breast cancer, yet have a higher breast cancer death rate.  Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among Black women and in 2010, the CDC reported that breast cancer was the leading cause of cancer death for Black women aged 45--64 years. What was most alarming in this CDC report was that the breast cancer death rate for women aged 45--64 years was 60% higher for Black women than white women (56.8 and 35.6 deaths per 100,000, respectively).  (CDC: National Vital Statistics System:

Why this is important for Black women

The growing breast cancer disparities that exist between Black women and white women are alarming. Although the overall lifetime risk of breast cancer is lower for Black women compared with white women, the death rates are higher. It is important to note that Black women also have a lower 5 year survival rate at 77% compared to that of 90% for white women. Contrary to prevailing beliefs, younger Black women up to age 44 have a higher incidence of breast cancer than white women, (U.S. Cancer Statistics Working Group. United States Cancer Statistics: 1999–2006 Incidence and Mortality

What Black women need to know?

Breast cancer tends to appear in Black women at a younger age and in more advanced forms. In fact, Black women are two times more likely to develop triple negative breast cancer, an aggressive form of the disease which has fewer effective treatment options. Triple-negative breast cancers tend to grow and spread more quickly than most other types of breast cancer. We also are known to have denser breast, one of the strongest predictors of risk for breast cancer and also is a known factor limiting the sensitivity of a screening mammogram.  Mammograms of breasts with higher density have been described as harder to read and interpret than those of less dense breasts.  A small cancer can be concealed by dense breast tissue or by the overlap of normal breast structures.

Many women with early breast cancer have no symptoms.  That is why it is so crucial to get screened before symptoms have a chance to appear.   However, the most common sign of breast cancer is a new lump or mass. A painless, hard mass that has irregular edges is more likely to be cancerous, but breast cancers can be tender, soft, or rounded. For this reason, it is important that you have any new breast mass or lump checked by a health care professional experienced in diagnosing breast diseases.

Other signs may include:


What the Imperative is doing

At the Black Women’s Health Imperative, we know that Black women have not benefited from the advances in breast cancer research and new technologies. It is our mission to raise questions, seek understanding, and call attention to what is happening to Black women.

Through our advocacy, policy and national and community-based initiatives, we are working to make eliminating breast cancer disparities among young Black women a public health priority. We do this by:


What Black Women Can Do: Detect. Diagnose. Survive

Early detection is critically important, especially for women at higher risk. For Black women who have been diagnosed at the earliest stage of breast cancer when the tumor is small and localized, early diagnosis can make a difference.

For most of us, early detection and diagnosis are attainable with a few easy steps:

  1. Have your provider show you how to perform monthly breast self-examination (BSE) and perform it faithfully at the same time each month.
  2. See your provider for a clinical breast examination (CBE) at least once a year. 
  3. Have regular mammograms. Since breast density is one of the strongest risk factors for Black women developing breast cancer, insist on digital mammography or some of the newer more advanced technologies that help detect tumors
  4. Learn more about what the Imperative is doing to make breast cancer disparities a priority through our national campaign to end breast cancer disparities, Moving Beyond Pink and sign up for becoming an advocate in your organization and community. 

Breast Cancer News

Published Wednesday, October 19, 2011
When 27-year-old Shaneera made the decision to breastfeed her newly born daughter in August 2007, little did she know that decision to breastfeed would change her life. Wanting to give her daughter the gift of a good life start, Shaneera was anxious when she felt a lump while nursing. After months of being brushed off by her primary health care provider, more»
Published Monday, October 10, 2011
Black women overall are more likely to die from breast cancer, when all ages are considered. Scientists have found there's more at work than differences in income, health insurance and access to health care. more»
Published Monday, October 10, 2011
Greensboro, NC -- When you hear about women battling breast cancer, they're often middle-aged, diagnosed after a mammogram. That's what 24-year-old Meleshia Daye thought too, until she was diagnosed. Daye, who is now being treated for stage four breast cancer, said she is sharing her story so other young woman know why those self breast exams are so more»
Published Wednesday, October 5, 2011
Bill will provide women with information about breast density, risk for developing breast cancer. Representatives Rosa DeLauro (CT-3) and Steve Israel (NY-2) introduced the Breast Density and Mammography Reporting Act of 2011 today, which will help raise awareness of breast cancer risks and the importance of appropriate screening. Each year, more»
Published Friday, September 30, 2011
More prevalent among African-American women and harder to treat, triple-negative breast cancer is a one whose growth is not supported by the hormones estrogen and progesterone, nor by the presence of too many HER2 receptors, explains Keith Amos, M.D., Assistant Professor of Surgery at UNC's School of Medicine (he was also the doctor who treated Buffy Wilson). more»
Published Thursday, September 29, 2011
Early Detection Saves Lives: October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month Black Women’s Health Imperative to Launch Breast Cancer Consumer Awareness Campaign – Moving Beyond Pink to End Breast Cancer Disparities - on October 19, 2011 Nothing speaks more clearly to the shocking breast cancer health disparities than the fact that Black women are less more»
Published Thursday, September 22, 2011
Breast cancer unites women of all color and creed under a common banner of hope. But not all breasts are created equal. Different minority populations, as well as subgroups within those populations, face distinct challenges and risk factors when it comes to breast health. “We tend to (group) everything in terms that ‘one size fits all’ as opposed to more»
Published Tuesday, September 20, 2011
Certain cancer signaling pathways that are activated in aggressive cancer can be detected very early, even in precancerous cells, among young African-American women at high risk for breast cancer. This may allow for earlier detection and prevention of cancer. However, the early activation of these pathways, which are linked to how the body's cells consume more»
Published Tuesday, September 20, 2011
Black women who develop breast cancer are more likely than white women to suffer a second cancer in the other breast, and those who are diagnosed under age 45 are more likely to get a primary breast cancer of a more aggressive form, new research indicates. "When the disease does occur in blacks early on, it tends to be more aggressive, more likely to more»
Published Monday, September 19, 2011
Could stress play a role in the development of breast cancer? Researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago wondered about this. After all, the components of what experts call “psychosocial stress” – including fear, anxiety and isolation – could take a toll on the autonomic nervous system, which helps regulate heart rate, respiration and other more»