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Best Defense

October 15, 2014 by  
Filed under Community

Let Breast Cancer Awareness Month inspire you to take charge of your health.


STEPHANIE KIRBY Executive Director, Susan G. Komen of Southern Nevada

Breast cancer, to put it simply, just does not care. It does not care about your gender. It does not care about your race. It does not care about your age or the amount of money in your bank account. Breast cancer is equal opportunity. And because we are all at risk, we are all in this fight together.

My mother died of breast cancer. It’s been 14 years and feels, in my heart, like it just happened yesterday. She was prone to cystic breasts, and felt lumps for years — but they always turned out to be cysts. Until they weren’t. She knew these lumps felt a little different, but she waited. Waiting resulted in the cancer progressing to stage 3 before it was diagnosed.

So let’s talk about you. When was the last time you had a breast exam, clinical or screening? Last month? Last year? Five years ago? I fear too many women, age 40 and older, answer that question with one simple word: “Never.”

We wanted to know why. Through years of research, there are some very definite barriers that have emerged, the biggest being lack of insurance. Others include low income, lack of access to care, lack of a usual health care provider, lack of a recommendation from a provider for screening, lack of awareness about risks and screening methods, and cultural and language differences.

Maybe you fall into one of these categories. If so, it’s time to get you into a new one — women who are screened yearly. It’s not a bad club to be in. And it just might save your life.

We know there are disparities among women of different ethnic groups. For African-American women, the risk of breast cancer is lower than for white women — but the risk of dying is higher. African-American women have a 41 percent higher rate of breast cancer mortality (death) than white women, based on the most recent available data. In the past, African-American women were less likely to receive regular mammograms. These lower screening rates may have increased the chances of African-American women being diagnosed with a later-stage breast cancer. This may be one possible reason for the difference in survival rates. However, African-American women and white women now have the about same rates of mammography use. According to the Susan G. Komen organization, in 2010, among women 40 and older, 66 percent of African-American women and 67 percent of white women had a mammogram in the past two years. Nevertheless, recent studies have found that failing to get proper followup care after an abnormal mammogram may be a factor in the lower survival rates among African-American women.

In my opinion, the phenomenon of women (of all races) declining to follow up on their care can be summed up in one word: fear. It is a very powerful emotion, one that I believe is an enormous barrier to obtaining help. I have seen it time and time again, and it is so sad to see someone paralyzed by fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of what could be. We need to realize our value; once we recognize how valuable we are to ourselves and to those around us, maybe the fear will not hold us back. Believe that you are stronger than the emotion.

The absolute first step is taking the mystery out of the disease by arming yourself with education. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and you will likely see many products turn pink in support of the cause. But the cause extends beyond the color. We want less talk and more action! Pick up the phone and make the appointment. And we hope to see you all in Downtown Las Vegas on May 2, 2015 for the 20th Annual Southern Nevada Race for the Cure!

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