This is a public service announcement for our female readers over the age of 40 or anyone who has a woman they know and/or love. For women over 40, it’s that time of year to visit your doctor and discuss scheduling your mammogram, that is, scheduling an X-ray picture of your breasts.
So why is it so important for women to schedule an annual mammogram? Doctors use a mammogram to look for early signs of breast cancer. Receiving a regular annual mammogram is the best test doctors have in their “tool box” to find breast cancer early, sometimes up to three years before it can be felt when giving yourself a manual self breast exam.
The American Cancer Society recommends scheduling an annual mammogram beginning at the age of 45. However, for African American women, the suggested age is 40. Black and white women have the same overall rates of breast cancer, Black women are 20% to 40% more likely to die from breast cancer. Thus making Black women a high-risk group by the American College of Radiology and the Society of Breast Imaging.
In addition to regular breast screenings, the Journal of the American College of Radiology issued some recommendations for decreasing one’s risk for breast cancer, which include maintaining a healthy weight, exercising every day, limiting or avoiding alcohol, not smoking, and eating a healthy diet that’s low in processed foods, sugar and trans fats.
The Sister’s Network, a national African American Breast Cancer Survivorship Organization, recommends three steps for early detection. First, a monthly breast self-exam (BSE) starting at age 20. Second, a clinical breast examination by a trained medical professional every 2-3 years beginning at age 20, and annually after age 40. And lastly, a mammography screening every one to two years for women ages 35-40. And if your mother or sister has had breast cancer, you may need to get a mammogram earlier and more frequently.
It is imperative we decrease the stigma and silence surrounding breast exams and breast health. We must ask the women in our lives if they are receiving their annual exams from their physicians or at a clinic or Planned Parenthood. Some women have heard horror stories of painful mammograms and a process that is less than welcoming. We must continue to share our mammogram stories and encourage others to schedule their appointments. Five minutes of slight discomfort during the exam can literally save a life.
My family has made getting a mammogram an annual event where we let others know about our appointments and receive encouragement and support. It is my hope that you will encourage the women in your life to schedule their annual mammogram and spread the word about breast exams and breast health.
Christina Greer, Ph.D., is an associate professor at Fordham University, the author of “Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream,” and the co-host of the podcast FAQ-NYC and also What’s in It for Us podcast.