Breast cancer rates among African-American women under the age of 35 are two times higher than White women the same age.
And death rates from breast cancer among Black women under the age of 35 are three times higher than that of their White counterparts. Why is there such a drastic gap in the mortality rates of Black women who are diagnosed with breast cancer? Many believe access to health care and the quality of care African-American women receive are the leading factors in the disparities.
Shelley Barnes, a young two-time breast cancer survivor, spoke with Roland Martin about her battle with the often times deadly disease, discussed why so many Black women are dying from it, and what young Black women should be doing now.
Barnes was diagnosed with breast cancer at 25. After feeling pain during an examination, her doctor took the initiative to send Barnes for a mammogram as a precautionary measure. After the mammogram, Barnes explained she had a biopsy, which led to a diagnosis of stage 2 breast cancer.
Prior to diagnosis, Barnes and her physician ruled out breast cancer because of her age. Barnes’ diagnosis was shocking because women typically are not diagnosed with the disease at such an early stage in life.
According to the US Preventative Services Task Force, women should have mammograms starting at the age of 50, but for many African-American women, this practice could prove deadly.
After her diagnosis, Barnes had a lumpectomy and was treated with chemotherapy. Thinking all was well after recovering from the surgery and chemo treatments, two years later she was diagnosed again with breast cancer on the opposite side of her chest.
Her second diagnosis was categorized as stage one and she proceeded with surgery and radiation treatment.
Barnes’ first diagnosis was from estrogen positive breast cancer and the second time she was diagnosed with HER2 positive breast cancer, each requiring different kinds of treatment.
Having survived breast cancer twice, Barnes said she welcomes “opportunities to speak out and to show people that breast cancer doesn’t have one face” and said, “there are all types of people diagnosed with this.”
As it relates to young African-American women going for mammograms, Barnes explained women should “push their doctors” and not be afraid to challenge them about your health.
Many times women go to their physicians about a lump and doctors “kind of just push them off to the side and say ‘Oh, you’re under forty so this isn’t a concern.’” Barnes encouraged Black women to “get a baseline mammogram” as a precaution.
Watch Shelly Barnes discuss her battle with breast cancer, how she overcame the disease twice, and what Black women should be doing to ensure their health in the video clip above.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty