October 2011 - Triple Threat for Black Women

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Black women have endured countless trials and tribulations throughout history – so many in fact, that it often seems the weight of the world rests on our shoulders. Now, with the advent of a fairly recently discovered triple threat to our health, it seems that we also carry a most serious form of breast cancer.

Triple Negative Breast Cancer strikes more young-to-early-middle-age women of African descent than any other racial group. In fact, a 2006 research study conducted by Emory University in Atlanta revealed that 47% of breast tumors found in Black women were of the triple negative variety compared to 22% in White women. Black women in the study were three times more likely to have these particular types of tumors.

Triple negative breast tumors are so named because they mark the presence of estrogen receptor, human epidermal growth fact receptor 2 and progesterone receptor – three biological elements present in breast tumor tissues. Together, they are particularly pernicious and require special forms of chemotherapy and / or radiation to treat. In the study, even with appropriate treatment, this highly aggressive triple threat most often resulted in poor recovery rates – only 14% of African American women survived five years after diagnosis.

Triple Negative Breast Cancer is aggressive and of unknown origins, but early detection and treatment remain the most effective tools against this and all forms of cancer. Screening guidelines ask adult women to start annual mammograms at age 40 unless a family history mandates earlier testing. But Triple Negative Breast Cancer typically strikes women under 40 – well before the recommended age for screening. This means that Black women need to be extra vigilant about conducting breast self exams. Any inkling of a breast mass or other irregularity should trigger an immediate trip to the doctor. It’s not known if Triple Negative Breast Cancer has a hereditary link, so all young women should be aware of this potential threat.

If you are diagnosed with breast cancer, it’s important to ask, “What type of breast cancer do I have?” The answer to this question will determine what type of chemotherapy will be most effective in your treatment.Women with a diagnosis of triple negative breast cancer should consider participating in clinical trials to receive free, state-of-the-art therapies that may prove highly effective. While the overall prognosis for this disease is not good, there are long term survivors. Self-education and early detection are the best defense against this aggressive killer of African-American women.

With you on your Journey to Wellness,
Dr. Mary S. Harris

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