Doctors' Notes

Breast Cancer Awareness: Screening Saves Lives

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Welcome to Doctors’ Notes, our newest contribution from Urban Health correspondents (and husband and wife) physicians Dr. Rob and Dr. Karla Robinson.  The dynamic duo will be fielding questions about health, as it relates to African Americans.  Please feel free to send them questions via digitalpitches@ebony.comWe promise to keep it anonymous. 


It is estimated that there will be close to 300,000 new cases of breast cancer this year alone and almost 40,000 lives will be lost to this disease. While these statistics seem dismal, what most people don’t realize is that breast cancer does not have to be a death sentence.  It is treatable and curable when it’s caught early.

You want to catch breast cancer as soon as it develops, well before it has a chance to spread and metastasize to other parts of the body.  It is at that point where the chances of survival dramatically decrease. Breast cancer cells can spread by breaking away from the breast and travelling through blood vessels or lymph vessels to reach other parts of the body. After spreading, cancer cells can attach to other tissues in different parts of the body and can damage those tissues as well. This is what makes breast cancer so dangerous…and deadly.

So how do we catch it early? Screening.

An expert panel recommends that women start mammogram screenings at age 50 and then every two years thereafter. However, African-American women actually tend to get breast cancer earlier than other groups. In fact, 1 out of every 3 Black women with breast cancer were diagnosed before age 50, and 1 out of 10 were diagnosed before age 40. So, these guidelines don’t quite work for us. That’s why many clinicians treating our women tend to follow the American Cancer Society guidelines that recommend women begin screening at age 40 and every year thereafter. It’s also best that every woman discuss their risk and screening timeline with their doctor, because if there’s a strong family history or other risk factors, they may need to begin screening even earlier.

While family history is important, don’t let a negative family history for breast cancer give you a false sense of security. In most cases of breast cancer there actually is no family history at all. In fact, in close to 85 percent of cases, there is no family history. So every woman, regardless of family history definitely needs to be screened.

It is estimated that 1 in 8 women will receive a diagnosis of breast cancer in her lifetime. Therefore, breast cancer is an illness that most of us can say we either have been personally affected, or we know someone that’s been affected, so it’s important that we take every opportunity to talk about screening. This is actually one condition that our community is actually less likely to be diagnosed with, but unfortunately we are more likely to die from it.

Let’s be motivated during Breast Cancer Awareness Month to schedule our own breast cancer screening or to encourage a friend or loved one to do so. Remember, your life matters!

It’s a health thing…we’ve got to understand!

About the Doctors: Dr. Karla and Dr. Rob are the founders of Urban Housecall, a multimedia health and wellness resource, and also hosts of the Urban Housecall Radio Show.  For more from the doctors, visit their website at, like them on Facebook, and follow them on Twitter @urbanhousecall!