My sister recently told me she is preparing for her first mammogram. Doctors recommend women start getting annual mammograms when they turn 40. A mammogram is an X-ray image of your breast and is used to screen for breast cancer. Mammograms play a key role in early breast cancer detection. Scheduling regular annual mammograms helps decrease breast cancer deaths. In a mammogram procedure, your breasts are compressed between two firm surfaces to spread out the breast tissue. Doctors can then see any potential health dangers that could be fatal.
My sister is an obstetrician-gynecologist and is consistently making sure our family and friends take care of their physical and mental health. Most women dread getting mammograms. We’ve heard the horror stories of how the process can be painful, embarrassing, scary or all of the above. For many women, getting their first mammogram signals getting older and the emergence of menopause. For some women, the fears of finding cancer keeps them away from the doctor altogether. My sister had a great recommendation to assuage some of these fears.
When I asked my sister why she sounded so calm about getting her first mammogram, she told me that she and my mother planned to make it “fun.” They have scheduled their mammograms on the same day and have made reservations for lunch after the procedure. She recommended women talking to their friends and loved ones about the importance of getting the procedure. It is only a few hours on one day out of the year, and once it is done, you can rest relatively easily until your next annual visit. Worst case scenario, the doctors may find something to investigate. Many African-Americans have historically used doctors to cure diseases as opposed to using medical visits to diagnose minor issues before they become major or life threatening.
According to Sistersnetworkinc.org, a national African-American breast cancer survivorship organization, breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among African-American women. The Susan Komen Foundation states that the risk of African-American women getting breast cancer is lower when compared with white women, but the risk of dying of breast cancer is higher for Black women. In 2010, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that breast cancer was the leading cause of cancer death for Black women ages 45 to 64. The CDC stated that the breast cancer death rate for women ages 45 to 64 years was 60 percent higher for Black women than white women (56.8 and 35.6 deaths per 100,000, respectively).
Scheduling an annual mammogram is an important measure for early detection. Cancer is a scary disease and should not be ignored. So many Black women are the pillars of their families and communities, and we need you healthy and happy. So please, call your girlfriends, your daughters, your sisters, your aunties, your mom and mother figures and schedule your mammogram soon. Make a day of it. Use it as an excuse to treat yourself to something special. You are making the steps to take care of your health. Throw in a lunch or a trip to the nail salon and make this important process as enjoyable as possible. Your body and your family and friends will thank you for it.
Christina Greer, Ph.D., is an assistant professor at Fordham University and the author of “Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream.”