Think of metastatic breast cancer as mutated (badly behaved) cells that have escaped cell confinement (DCIS – Ductal Carcinoma in Situ). Then, uninvited, they have entered the more expansive breast tissue and found the lymph nodes by travelling incognito through the bloodstream. Finally, they find other organs in the body to hang out in and cause a real mess. By the time they’ve done this, breast cancer is either stage 3 or 4. As a result, cancer can develop in other areas of the body months or even years after the initial breast cancer diagnosis and, more likely, months for women of African heritage. At least 30 PER CENT of African heritage women diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer will develop cancer in other areas of their bodies.
IT CAN SPREAD TO:
ALTHOUGH BREAST CANCER CANNOT BE CURED AT STAGE 4,IT IS NOT AN AUTOMATIC DEATH SENTENCE.
First, it depends on where you are in the world. Women in most parts of Africa are dying from a lack of access to the right resources. We need to make more NOISE about this.
Many women of African heritage living in the West manage their lives with metastatic breast cancer, so this should be possible for nearly everybody.
Most breast cancers are found in the milk ducts (85% according to the World Health Organisation), but this does not mean it is an accurate figure from an African heritage point of view, no matter where you live.
The truth is we have not been involved in enough research studies to draw any reliable conclusions. From the studies that we know of, several indications suggest many differences based on our genetic structure and our environmental influences. For example, the western diet is often associated with breast cancer, but African women living in Africa diagnosed with breast cancer do not necessarily have Western diets.
We need to become our data to help those who care about us and do the research we desperately need.
Nevertheless, it’s safe to say that when a woman dies of breast cancer, it is because of widespread metastasis – the initial breast cancer can no longer be reduced by medication.
However, modern medicine is now successfully controlling or containing stage 4 breast cancer allowing many people to live active lives.
Here’s the weird thing. Breast cancer is more common in white European women. However, women of African heritage are more likely to develop metastatic (advanced stage) breast cancer. When we get it, we get it big, and nobody knows why? This is a reoccurring pattern across the globe showing up in research across the Caribbean, the Americas, the UK, South Africa, Ghana, Nigeria, North Brazil and many more areas.
THE POSSIBLE GLOBAL PATTERN FOR METASTATIC BREAST CANCER IN AFRICAN HERITAGE WOMEN
Economic circumstancesdisproportionately disadvantage black women from being able to pay for the medical help they want and need – (Medical treatment is free in the UK and yet follows the global pattern for women of African heritage with breast cancer).
Doctors fail to take black women seriously when they seek medical help, so their breast cancer has time to develop into an advanced stage. These frustrations are expressed in many research studies by women of African heritage.
Black women delay seeking help from their doctors, so their breast cancer has already advanced.
Black women are disproportionately AFRAID of losing their breasts, so seek alternative medicine first.
Black women are more likely to be diagnosed at a YOUNGER AGE – before turning 50 years of age.
There is NO COHERENT SCREENING focus on (1) younger women and (2) younger black women.
Black women have disproportionately MORE AGGRESSIVE BREAST CANCERS spreading to the lymph nodes and other organs at much faster rates.
Black women are up to 40 PER CENT MORE LIKELY TO DIE from the disease than any other racial/ethnic group with the same diagnosis.
Black women are twice as likely as white women (US/UK) to develop TRIPLE NEGATIVE BREAST CANCER (TNBC).
The disproportionate levels of aggressive breast cancer may correlate with higher levels of INTERGENERATIONAL TRAUMA EXPERIENCED BY WOMEN OF AFRICAN HERITAGE FOR OVER 500 YEARS.
WHAT TO DO?
Although improved breast screening must be stressed, mammograms are only part of the answer because of their inherent unreliability. The emphasis must be upon MUCH EARLIER DETECTION, and given a large percentage of detections are found by women finding a lump in their breasts, this is crucial.
I found my lump by accident, but I hadn’t felt well for a few days. Be aware of all of your feelings. After finding the lump, I went to get a mammogram. Luckily, they found what I already suspected but I could have been one of the 30 per cent they regularly miss. They found it because my tumor had already grown to a size that could be seen by xray. Often, aggressive breast cancers are small (read unnoticeable) but grow very fast.
THE POINT IS, YOUR INSTINCT MUST BE THE DEFINITIVE GUIDE, NOT THE MAMMOGRAM.
If the mammogram fails to see anything, but you believe something is wrong, you have got to be confident, go back to your doctor and demand something more conclusive. Because you’re likely to be a young woman, it is generally harder to be taken seriously so take someone with you. Don’t let a doctor tell you that you’re far too young and send you away. Be knowledgeable about Black Breast Cancer and be willing to inform him of her about your concerns. This applies to older women too.
YOU MIGHT SUGGEST ALTERNATIVES SUCH AS,
A GENETIC TEST
AN MRI SCAN
A PET / CT SCAN
Bear in mind you will still have to have a BIOPSY because only that can confirm a breast cancer diagnosis.
EARLY DETECTION AND TREATMENT OUTCOMES:
The right treatment depends upon the following:
Where do you live?
What your financial position is (depending upon where you live in the world)?
The type of breast cancer
Size of the tumor
When it was found
Whether it is hormone-receptive, or not.
Whether or not it is HER2in status
The rate/speed of cell growth
Whether it is a new or a recurring cancer
Your menopausal status
Indeed, your overall health
This is to say, your breast cancer cannot be compared with somebody else’s because there are so many variables. The challenge is to find out as much as you can about your own body, and your family history.
THE GENETIC COMPONENT
This is a huge and most important subject for people of African heritage. Find out more information HERE but consider that a genetic test will give you the most precise individual assessment for your breast cancer diagnosis than anything else. The problem is a genetic test is still very expensive at approximately $1,500. Also, the downside is that you may well find out things about your health that you didn’t want to know.
As I said, there is NO ‘CURE’ for metastatic breast cancer. You will need treatment for the remainder of your life. Together with your doctor, you must determine the best course of treatment available to you. You’ll need to play an active role in the decisions you make as well as the monitoring of your progress. It is your quality of life at stake for the months or years that lie ahead. Make your doctor listen to you and be very smart about it. Find someone else if you cannot achieve this because it’s your life, and this is not the time for you to be quiet about your healthcare.
YOU DESERVE TO BE VALUED AND YOUR OPINION IS VITAL!
ASK YOURSELF THE FOLLOWING,
Does your doctor look you in the eye and explain things in a clear, understandable way?
Does your doctor treat you and your concerns with respect?
Talk to your doctor about your treatment goals and find out what parts of the treatment you must do yourself.
You can still seek out a SECOND OPINION if you need to. Even if the opinion is the same as the first, this might give you peace of mind and a better understanding of the treatment process. When it comes to cancer, having peace of mind is very much part of the healing so do not underestimate it.