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The Voice of the Black Community


Take care of yourself with greater cancer awareness
Screenings, treatments can make difference
Published Friday, November 1, 2019 12:31 pm
by Ashley Mahoney | The Charlotte Post

Early detection is key to best results in the fight against cancer.

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You have to take care of yourself to take care of your family.

October encourages people to think pink, celebrate survivors and remember those claimed by breast cancer, but what happens for black women when the calendar turns to November, December and a new year?

“It’s well known within the medical community that African American women are at a disadvantage when it comes to screening and treatment,” Novant Health Cancer Specialists-Charlotte oncologist Dr. Lillian Thomas-Harris said. “The American Cancer Society has data from 2009-13, which shows that the incidents among blacks versus whites is pretty similar.

“In some cases, it is reported that it might be slightly less in African American women. However, the death rates for African American women is much higher. It does beg the question, ‘why is that?’ From my experience, and from the data that is reported, it seems that one of the issues is that African American women tend to be diagnosed at a later stage. They tend to have more advanced disease, and there are several factors that we think can contribute to that.

“One of the issues is obviously access to care and I think that has been very well documented. A big part of that is having good health insurance and having access to care so that patients get routine and timely mammograms.”

According to the American Cancer Society, 33,840 cases of breast cancer among African American women will be diagnosed in 2019, with an anticipated 6,540 deaths as a result. Breast cancer is the second-leading cause of death among black women behind lung cancer. African American women tend to place the needs of others above their own, which can have a detrimental outcome.  

“I’ve actually experienced that firsthand,” Thomas-Harris said. “Just stressing the seriousness of it—again, educating them that African American women die more often from breast cancer. This is a serious disease, and you need to take the treatment seriously. You need to stay on top of your treatments and complete your treatments, because at the end of the day, if you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be able to take care of your family.”

Another component is holding women accountable for exams.

“I go through the benefits of screening, the age you should start screening,” Thomas-Harris said. “Women should start discussing starting screening mammograms at age 40. It is just reminding them, but it’s not OK to just say, ‘you need to get your mammogram,’ but make them accountable to it, like, ‘when are you going to do it? Should I put the order in for you?’”

However, accountability goes beyond visiting a physician. Cultivating and maintaining a healthy lifestyle is equally important.

“As you get older, your risk for breast cancer goes up,” Thomas-Harris said. “People need to start talking about it within the community so people are aware. ‘Yes, my brother, my sister, this is a disease that affects the African American community.’”

Thomas-Harris noted bodily changes, such as a period or menopause, can also be contributing factors.

“If you develop a period before age 12, or you go through menopause at a later age, those things affect your risk for breast cancer,” Thomas-Harris said. “Family history is very important. There are all these things that might increase your risk and may mean that you need to be screened more frequently.”

Novant Health allows patients to schedule mammograms through the physician finder tool on their website. Visit www.NovantHealth.org and click the “Find a doctor” option at the top of the homepage.

“You actually schedule your mammogram online, and we partner with Susan G. Komen,” Thomas-Harris said. “I see patients regularly. They get a grant from Susan G. Komen, and they come in. They have an opportunity visit with me. I discuss things like how to do a breast exam. I teach them how to do a breast exam properly, and tell them how often it needs to be done. You need to do a breast exam once a month, every month around the same time. Patients who come in through that program are able to get a mammogram for free.”


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