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Black Women Added to High-Risk Group for Breast Cancer

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While overall rates of breast cancer in Black and white women are about the same, Black women are 20% to 40% more likely to die from breast cancer. The reason for this disparity is likely due to several factors, including genetics, the biology of the cancer, and differences in healthcare.

Because Black women have higher breast cancer mortality rates than white women, the American College of Radiology and the Society of Breast Imaging have recommended that Black women be added to groups considered at high risk for breast cancer. This is the first time Black women have been classified as a high-risk group.

The recommendations were published in the March 2018 issue of the Journal of the American College of Radiology. Read “Breast Cancer Screening in Women at Higher-Than-Average Risk: Recommendations from the ACR.”

Other women considered at high risk for breast cancer are:

  • women with a gene mutation, such as a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation, linked to breast cancer
  • women who previously had radiation to the chest or face
  • women of Ashkenazi Jewish descent
  • women with a strong family history of breast cancer, especially if a parent or sibling has been diagnosed
  • women with a personal history of breast cancer
  • women with dense breasts
  • women with certain benign breast conditions

The organizations recommend that all women have a breast cancer risk assessment at age 30 to figure out if regular screening mammograms should start at age 40 -- for women at average risk of breast cancer -- or at a younger age for women deemed to be at high risk for the disease.

The guideline also recommends that women at high risk for breast cancer have screening more frequently, and with a different screening method, such as MRI or ultrasound. So a woman at high risk might have a mammogram at the beginning of the year and then have an MRI 6 months later.

“All women, especially Black women and those of Ashkenazi Jewish descent, should be evaluated for breast cancer risk no later than age 30, so that those at higher risk can be identified and can benefit from supplemental screening,” the experts wrote.

Women of all ethnicities can take steps to keep their risk of breast cancer as low as it can be. If you’re a Black woman, you may want to talk to your doctor about your risk of breast cancer, as well as about lifestyle choices you can make to lower that risk, including:

  • maintaining a healthy weight
  • exercising every day
  • limiting or avoiding alcohol
  • not smoking
  • eating a healthy diet that’s low in processed foods, sugar, and trans fats

To learn more about breast cancer risk and other options to keep your risk as low as it can be, visit the Lower Your Risk section.

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