Subscribe to minority women's health email updates.
Cancer is a disease in which cells become abnormal and form more cells in an uncontrolled way. With breast cancer, the cancer begins in the tissues that make up the breasts. The cancer cells may form a mass called a tumor. Getting a mammogram (x-ray of the breast) can help find the cancer early. This gives a woman more treatment options and makes it more likely she will survive the cancer.
African-American women are more likely than all other women to die from breast cancer. Their tumors often are found at a later, more advanced stage. So, there are fewer treatment options. Some other reasons for this may include not being able to get health care or not following-up after getting abnormal test results. Other reasons may include distrust of the health care system, the belief that mammograms are not needed, or not having insurance. Also, research has shown that African-American women are more likely to get a form of breast cancer that spreads more quickly.
We do not know how to prevent breast cancer. But there are things you can do to reduce your risk, such as limiting how much alcohol you drink and being physically active.
There also are things you can do to find breast cancer early. Breast cancer screening looks for signs of cancer before a woman has symptoms. Screening can help find breast cancer early when it's most treatable. Two tests are commonly used to screen for breast cancer:
- Mammograms. A safe, low-dose x-ray exam of the breasts to look for changes that are not normal. Starting at age 40, women should have screening mammograms every 1-2 years. Depending on factors such as family history and your general health, your doctor may recommend a mammogram before age 40.
- Clinical breast exam (CBE). The doctor looks at and feels the breasts and under the arms for lumps or anything else that seems unusual. Ask your doctor if you need a CBE.
Regular screening is the best way to find breast cancer early in most women. If you are at higher risk you may need mammograms at an earlier age or more often. Or, your doctor might want to use other tests too. Let your doctor know if you find a change in your breast, such as a lump or nipple discharge that isn't breast milk.
Some women do not get regular mammograms because of cost and lack of insurance. Yet there are free and low-cost programs to help women get breast cancer screening. You can learn more by contacting the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program.
Read more from womenshealth.gov
Breast Cancer Fact Sheet — This fact sheet provides information on why women should be concerned about breast cancer and gives resources for more information.
Explore other publications and websites
African-Americans and Breast Cancer (Copyright © African American Community Health Advisory Committee) — This fact sheet features a brief overview of breast cancer, including the risk factors, signs and symptoms, and diagnosis and treatment. It also offers links to other organizations that can provide information.
Breast Cancer Racial and Ethnic Differences (Copyright © Susan G. Komen Foundation) — Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers among women in the United States. It is the most frequently diagnosed cancer among nearly every racial and ethnic group, including African-American, American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian, Pacific Islander/Native Hawaiian, and Hispanic women. The rates of developing and dying from the disease differ among ethnic groups, and this publication discusses these differences.
Breast Cancer: A Resource Guide for Minority Women — This publication lists organizations, documents, journal articles, and other resources to help minority women affected by breast cancer.
Cancer Facts and Figures for African Americans 2009-2010 (Copyright © American Cancer Society) — This publication presents the most recent statistics on the rate of cancer diagnosis, survival, and deaths in African-Americans. It also includes sections on cancer risk factors such as tobacco use and lack of physical activity, as well as the use of cancer screening examinations.
Cancer Health Disparities — This on-line fact sheet gives a brief overview of the currently available data on cancer health disparities among racial and ethnic groups. It also summarizes some NCI research projects and initiatives designed to understand and eventually eliminate these disparities.
Caregivers of Women Living With Metastatic Breast Cancer (Copyright © CancerCare) — This booklet is a guide to helping your loved one with metastatic breast cancer while still taking care of yourself. It also discusses how you and other caregivers can get the support you need.
Facts and Statistics About Breast Cancer in the United States: Year 2009 (Copyright © National Breast Cancer Coalition) — This fact sheet discusses breast cancer rates in the United States and how they have changed in the last few decades.
Mammograms — This fact sheet explains how screening mammograms differ from diagnostic mammograms. It also explains the benefits and limitations of screening mammography, as well as recommendations for when a woman should begin and how frequently she should have screening mammograms.
Racial & Ethnic Issues in Screening (Copyright © Susan G. Komen Foundation) — Even with access to care and regular screening, African-American women still have shorter survival times and more advanced tumors when diagnosed with breast cancer. Although African-American women have lower rates of breast cancer than white women, they are more likely to die from it. This article addresses biological differences that may contribute to this gap in survival rates.
Understanding Breast Changes: A Health Guide for Women — This booklet explains normal, age-related breast changes you may experience throughout your life and how they differ from changes that indicate breast cancer. It also discusses mammograms and maintaining your breast health.
What You Need to Know About Breast Cancer — This information summary is designed for women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer and who are about to undergo treatment.
You Are a Survivor: Living After Cancer Treatment (Copyright © Lance Armstrong Foundation) — This is a brochure written specifically for African-American cancer survivors. It raises awareness of the physical, practical, and emotional concerns of cancer survivors; lists resources; and encourages survivors to seek support.
Connect with other organizations
American Cancer Society
National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program, CDC
National Cancer Institute, NIH
Office of Minority Health, HHS
Susan G. Komen for the Cure
Content last updated May 18, 2010.
Resources last updated May 18, 2010.
A federal government website managed by the Office on Women's Health in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
200 Independence Avenue, S.W. • Washington, DC 20201