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Why Black Women Are More Likely To Be Diagnosed With Late-Stage Breast Cancer

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Photo: Brayden Olson
Black women are nearly twice as likely to be diagnosed with late-stage breast cancer as white women because they lack awareness of the symptoms and don't attend screenings as often, according to a new analysis of women in England by Cancer Research UK and Public Health England, the BBC reported.

Among breast cancer patients, a quarter of black African and 22% of black Caribbean women have an advanced form of the disease, compared with just 13% of white women, the data from 2012-13 found.

This could be because black women are less likely to go for a mammogram appointment when invited by the NHS, according to Cancer Research UK. Breast screening is offered to all women in England aged between 50 and 70.

Other reasons could include tumour biology and a lower awareness of breast cancer symptoms, said Cancer Research UK.

Like all cancers, the likelihood of being able to treat breast cancer successfully is far higher if the disease is spotted early.

"A lot of us black people bury our head in the sand. 'Oh, me, well, I don't need to go, there's nothing wrong with me'," one woman at a breast-cancer support group for women of black African and Caribbean descent told the BBC.

Another woman said: "I find a lot of people, they'll find out something is wrong but they keep it to themselves and they're praying. They're praying that God will heal them."

Heather Nelson, from BME Cancer Voice, said one reason why women of colour are less likely to attend screenings is that they don't see themselves represented in information leaflets about breast cancer.

"You'll get leaflets through your door and they will be predominantly of white, middle-class women. There's no representation of South Asian, African descent et cetera," she told the BBC.

"If you get information like that, you're going to look and think, 'That's not about me.'"

Dr Julie Sharp, from Cancer Research UK, reminded women to be aware of the symptoms of breast cancer. "If you notice something that isn't normal for you, or you've a symptom that's not gone away or has got worse, getting it checked out promptly could save your life," she said.

Just last week, experts warned that around one in six cases of breast cancer starts with warning signs other than a lump, such as nipple changes, a swelling in the armpit or a change in size or breast shape.

The NHS's list of breast cancer symptoms includes:

• A new lump or area of thickened tissue in either breast that wasn't there before
• A change in the size or shape of one or both breasts
• Bloodstained discharge from either nipple
• A lump or swelling in either armpit
• Dimpling on the skin of the breasts
• A rash on or around the nipple
• A change in the appearance of your nipple, such as becoming sunken into the breast

The new data found that, across all ethnic groups, most breast cancers are still diagnosed at an early stage.
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