Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is a malignant tumor that starts in the cells of the breast. 

 Factors that increase a woman's risk of breast cancer include:

  • Age. Risk goes up as you get older. Most women who get breast cancer are older than 50.
  • Personal history of breast cancer. If you've had breast cancer in one breast, you are more likely to get it in the other breast.
  • Family history. Having a mother, sister or daughter with breast cancer increases your risk, and the risk is higher if the family member got breast cancer before she was 40. Your risk also increases if you have more than one family member with breast cancer.
  • Certain breast changes that are not cancer. Certain types of abnormal breast changes, such as atypical hyperplasia, ductal carcinoma in situ, and lobular carcinoma in situ, put you at a higher risk. These changes are found during a breast biopsy.
  • Dense breast tissue. Women with dense breast tissue have a higher risk.
  • Menstrual and reproductive history. Getting your first menstrual period before age 12, reaching menopause after 55, never having children or having children after age 30 all increase your risk.
  • Taking hormones. Using menopausal hormone therapy containing both estrogen and progestin for more than five years increases breast cancer risk. It's not clear whether estrogen-only therapy affects risk. Using birth control pills may slightly increase the risk of breast cancer in current users, but this risk returns to normal over time.
  • Radiation therapy to the chest. Radiation therapy to the chest to treat cancer increases breast cancer risk. Risk depends on the dose of radiation and your age during treatment. The risk is highest for radiation treatment used during puberty.
  • Weight. The chance of getting breast cancer after menopause is higher if you're overweight or obese.
  • Drinking alcohol. The more alcohol you drink, the greater your risk of breast cancer.
  • Physical activity. Women who are not physically active may have an increased risk of breast cancer.

Most women who get breast cancer have no known risk factors besides age, and many women with one or more risk factors never get breast cancer. 

Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer among Black women and the second leading cause of death for Black women.  In 2010, the CDC reported that breast cancer was the leading cause of cancer death for Black women aged 45-64 years. In addition,  the CDC reported that the breast cancer death rate for women aged 45-64 years was 60% higher for Black women than white women (56.8 and 35.6 deaths per 100,000, respectively). 

(CDC: National Vital Statistics System:

Breast cancer is more common among women later in life, but can strike at any age.  In fact, many are surprised to learn that young Black women have a higher risk of developing breast cancer. 

Black women younger than 40 have a higher incidence of breast cancer and lower survival rates than white women. One reason for these inequities is the differences in the types of breast cancer that affect Black women. Black women are often diagnosed at later stages when the cancer has already spread. The good news is when breast cancer is detected and treated early, Black women have a much greater chance of survival.

There is no known way to prevent breast cancer, but early detection and timely treatment can save lives.  Breast cancer should not steal your future, especially during the prime of your life.

Early Detection is Key

Diagnosis at the earliest stage of breast cancer, when the tumor is more likely to be small and localized, can make a difference.

Take these potentially life-saving steps:

  1. Talk with your healthcare provider about any family history of breast cancer and about your individual risk.
  2. Get to know your breasts.  Do breast self-examinations monthly. If you don’t know how to do the exam, ask your healthcare provider to show you. It’s important to do the exams at the same time each month.
  3. See your provider for a clinical breast examination at least once a year.
  4. Have regular mammograms. Since breast density is one of the strongest risk factors for Black women developing breast cancer, insist on digital or 3D mammography, or some of the newer more advanced technologies that help detect tumors.

What the Imperative is doing

We are working to make eliminating breast cancer inequities among young Black women a public health priority by:

  • 1

    Educating women on the importance of early detection and timely diagnosis.

  • 2

    Promoting routine breast self-exams, clinical breast exams and mammograms.

  • 3

    Advocating for screening guidelines that are responsive to the health and needs of Black women.

  • 4

    Advocating for increased access to the latest screening tools and improved diagnosis and treatment services.

  • 5

    Advocating and supporting policies and practices that call for early education and screening among younger women.

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