Early breast cancer detection is important in diagnosing and treating breast cancer. However, a lot of us African Americans do not go to the doctor when something is wrong with our bodies. Recently, I read a very sad article about a 44-year-old African American mother in Detroit who died about a week after a stage 4 breast cancer diagnosis. Sadly, she left behind eleven devastated children and three grandchildren. She had symptoms-her breasts were leaking-but she did not get it checked out. We will never know if she could have beat breast cancer or prolonged her life had she gone to a doctor sooner.
Why African Americans Avoid Medical Professionals
There are so many reasons that prevent us from going to the doctor. Maybe it is because we don’t have health insurance or our deductibles are so high that we can’t afford to use it. Maybe we are single mothers or the breadwinners in the family and do not have time for ourselves.
Perhaps the mistrust that we have gained from personal experiences and historical studies that did more harm than good for African Americans come into play. If you are aware of your history then you should be familiar with the terrible Tuskegee syphilis experiment where African American men with syphilis were not treated but watched by researchers until they died.
Or maybe you’ve heard of Henrietta Lacks, famously known for the HeLa cell line, in which doctors at John Hopkins in Baltimore stole and replicated her cells, making millions of dollars while her family remained in poverty.
Early Breast Cancer Detection Saved My Life
I have been dealing with breast cancer since the summer of 2016. My cancer was detected early because of a self-breast exam. While I did not have chemotherapy or radiation, I have had several complications and more than one reconstructive surgery.
During this time, I have only had one African American nurse (who worked in the plastic surgeon’s office). I also had a young African American anesthesiologist, which was very surprising and comforting. Other than that, my medical team has been mostly white and Indian doctors. They are a great team of medical providers and I am fortunate that they care and listen to my concerns. Nevertheless, I do understand this is not the case for all of my African American sisters.
Early breast cancer detection gives you a better chance at beating it. Unfortunately, many African American women get a breast cancer diagnosis at very late stages. African American get breast cancer at younger ages. A diagnosis of the very aggressive and hard to treat triple negative breast cancer is twice as more likely than white women.
Early Breast Cancer Detection Tips
- Give yourself regular self-breast exams. You have to know your breasts. What I mean is, become familiar with how they feel. Some breasts are dense and lumpy, which is normal. However, it is when you feel new lumps that you should call your doctor. Be aware of any discharge coming from your nipples and call your doctor if you notice anything unusual.
- Let your spousal/partner give you breast exam. Let your spouse examine your breast since they like to touch them anyway. In fact, your spouse or partner may be more familiar than you with how your breasts feel.
- Ask a friend or family member for a referral to a doctor. If you are uncomfortable with doctors, you may be at ease if you know about a friend’s experience with a specific doctor.
- Find Board-certified African American doctors. They may be hard to find but most medical facilities have doctors listed on their websites with photos. If you cannot find an African American doctor in your area, you can Google different doctors to see other patient reviews.
- Speak up, Speak Loud! This is critical. This is your body and you have to take control. If you are in pain or having difficulties with medication, say something. If you have questions, ask. Do not let the doctor end your appointment without addressing your concerns. Ask the doctor if they have different means of communication, such as after-hours calls or emails. If your doctor is not willing to address your concerns or brush you off, FIND A NEW DOCTOR!
Put Yourself First
If you feel that no one is listening, find another doctor immediately. Your health does not have time to wait for your doctor to ‘come around’. Not all doctors will be a good fit for you and that is okay. You need an attentive, caring doctor that is willing to guide you along the way. Breast cancer can be very complicated with treatment and surgeries so you want your doctor to advocate for your well-being.