Are African American Women More at Risk for Breast Cancer?

Published on October 15, 2018

Are African American Women More at Risk for Breast Cancer?

According to the American Cancer Society, over 40,000 women are expected to die from breast cancer this year. The good news is that over time, there has been a decrease in death as a result of breast cancer. However, certain populations are at higher risk of mortality than others. For African American women, chances of surviving breast cancer are much lower than many other populations. There are several potential contributing factors to this.

Someone’s likelihood of surviving cancer is often influenced by:

  • Stage and diagnosis
  • Proper screening and preventative care
  • Socioeconomic status
  • Personal and family history
  • Accessibility to healthcare

“African American women are disproportionately diagnosed with more aggressive and later stages of cancer,” says Tim Sparling, DNP, advanced illness management coordinator at Bronson Battle Creek Cancer Care Center. “After seeing the statistics, especially in our own community, I thought ‘Now what do I about it?’" To help combat the problem, Tim spent two years mentoring Stephanneth Adams, DNP, WHNP-BC, who was at the time a doctoral student. The two worked alongside other community members to implement a culturally sensitive community-based breast health education program in Calhoun County. The program increased community involvement related to breast cancer, education and access to resources for African American women in the county. This was done through a variety of community events, education and outreach. "This awareness and education leads to action. This in turn saves lives," Tim explains. "We continue to look for ways to engage with the community, especially where health disparities exist."

At the Bronson Battle Creek Cancer Care Center, from technology to specially trained staff, there are many resources to help catch cancer early. Also, a wide variety of treatment options are available.

Breast cancer forms when a change in DNA causes normal breast cells to become cancerous. There are many different factors that can affect your risk of developing breast cancer. By being familiar with these factors, you can help prevent and detect early signs of breast cancer. Although this type of cancer is much more common in women, it is important for men to be aware of these risk factors as well. Risk factors can include:

  • Family history – Did your mom, grandmother or sister have breast cancer? Since breast cancer forms when DNA changes, family genes can affect your risk level.
  • Diet – Maintaining a healthy diet is important. High-fat and carbohydrate-rich diets can lead to being overweight which can increase your risk.
  • How much you exercise - As with eating healthy, regular exercise can help maintain a healthy weight, decreasing your risk.
  • Race – Breast cancer is typically more common in white and African American women, and the survival rate for African American women is much lower.

All women ages 40 and above should receive regular breast cancer screenings; however, it is helpful to be aware of certain signs and symptoms when performing monthly self-exams. What are the signs or symptoms of breast cancer?

  • Swelling of the breast (all or part of it)
  • Skin irritation or dimpling
  • Breast or nipple pain
  • Nipple retraction (turning inward)
  • Redness or thickening of the nipple or breast skin
  • Nipple discharge (other than breast milk)

To learn more about the higher level of cancer care available in southwest Michigan, visit

Source: American Cancer Society

  • Photo of three African American women laughing together