What are the different types of breast cancer?

Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer among women in the United States, according to the National Cancer Institute.

While African-American women and white women are diagnosed with breast cancer at about the same rate, African-American women are approximately 42 percent more likely to die from breast cancer. For that reason, they have been added for the first time to the list of groups considered “high risk” for breast cancer, according to the American College of Radiology.

Breast Cancer Disparity

Experts know that breast cancer outcomes vary by race and ethnicity — but the disparities for African-American women are startling:

  • They are more likely than white women to develop breast cancer before age 40.
  • They are more likely to be diagnosed with a more advanced stage of cancer than white women.
  • They are nearly twice as likely to be diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer, an especially lethal form of the disease.

One of the best ways to address these outcomes is early detection.

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Why Early Detection Matters

Early detection through routine breast cancer screening remains the single most important preventative measure for women, regardless of race or ethnicity. The earlier the breast cancer diagnosis, the higher the chances of long-term survival. Women whose cancer is contained within the breast (stage 1, or localized breast cancer) have a 93 percent five-year survival rate.

Mammograms improve your chances of early detection. Conventional mammography — the first screening option for most women — involves a series of breast x-rays that look for cancer. Knowing what to expect during a mammogram can make your first experience a bit more comfortable.

When Should You Get a Mammogram?

For women at average risk of breast cancer, health experts recommend annual mammograms starting at age 40. This early breast cancer screening protocol has been shown to save the most lives.

African-American women are more likely to develop breast cancer before age 40 and should talk to their doctors about the benefits and risks of beginning screenings at a younger age.

Breast Density and Breast Cancer Risks

Women with dense breasts also are considered at a higher risk of developing breast cancer. Dense breast tissue appears white on a regular mammogram, making it more difficult to spot cancerous tumors.

Breast density has nothing to do with the size or shape of your breasts. Studies have found that African-American women have a higher breast density on average than white women, which can contribute to more difficult detection of breast cancer.

In 2014, Pennsylvania passed the Breast Density Notification Act, requiring women to be notified of breast density on their mammogram reports. Be sure to read your mammogram report once you receive it. If you have questions about breast density, ask your doctor if other screening options such as 3D mammography, ultrasound, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) would make sense for you.

Women at high risk can contact the Magee-Womens High-Risk Breast Cancer Program at 412-623-3425 to schedule an appointment.

Call 1-800-649-4077 to schedule a mammogram at a conveniently located Magee-Womens Imaging or Womancare Center.