Breast Cancer: How to Improve Your Survival

Credit: Shutterstock

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. African American women are the second most commonly diagnosed ethnic group with breast cancer, and are more likely to die from breast cancer. Some reasons for this are relatively out of our control. There are 3 known causes for our higher death rate that we can actually change; we often get our mammograms too late, less frequently than recommended, and we often don’t follow up on suspicious findings in a timely matter. As a result, we’re diagnosed at more advanced stages of disease that are difficult to cure.

But all is not lost.

There are some steps that we as African American women can take to improve our survival.

1. Perform your monthly self-breast exams. The earliest breast cancers are diagnosed as painless lumps or swelling of the underarms. A thorough feel of your entire breast and underarm every month will ensure that you know what’s normal for you. Then if anything new were to pop up, you can bring that to your gynecologists’ attention quickly.
2. Get yearly mammograms starting at age 40. The earliest, most curable cancers are not even able to be felt with a self-exam or by your gynecologist. If you get a mammogram and a suspicious area is detected, follow up soon with further evaluation. Hopefully it’s not cancer, but at least if it is caught early, survival improves tremendously. Knowing your results is important as well. No news is not always good news. If you don’t get notification usually within 2-4 weeks of your mammogram that everything was normal, follow up with your doctor.

3. Talk about your family’s medical history. It is not uncommon for my African American patients to not know what Grandma, or Aunt Janice passed away from. Sometimes families keep details of past or present medical problems a secret. This history is very relevant because it affects your chances of developing the same medical problems. Tell parents and grandparents that by sharing these details. They may be saving you from the same fate.

4. Don’t underestimate the value of healthy diet in the prevention of cancer. Fruits and vegetables help prevent multiple kinds of cancers in addition to heart disease, diabetes, and many other medical problems. At least 3-4 servings of raw or steamed vegetables or fruit per day can make a significant impact on your future health. Momma said eat your vegetables. Who knew she was right?

Fear of discovering a problem prevents many women from getting screened. Remember that the earlier issues like breast cancer are caught, the better your chances are of living the rest of your wonderful life as a survivor.

Wendy MD

Dr. Wendy Goodall McDonald is a board certified obstetrician and gynecologist practicing in the city of Chicago. She is a graduate of Xavier University of Louisiana and Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine and is always accepting new patients. Learn more at