By Megan Sayles, AFRO Business Writer,
Report for America Corps Member,
msayles@afro.com

According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer is the most common cancer in American women, outside of skin cancers. One in eight women will develop breast cancer during their lifetimes. 

Of all racial and ethnic groups, Black women tend to be disproportionately impacted by breast cancer.  

“What we see with African-American women throughout the country is that they tend to have some more aggressive cancers,” said Dr. Katerine Tsiapali, a fellowship-trained breast surgeon. “A cancer that we call ‘triple negative,’ which is basically a non-hormone-related type of breast cancer, is more common in Black women. We also see higher death rates, so Black women with breast cancer tend to die at higher rates compared to other ethnicities.” 

These facts make breast care a vital part of staying healthy. Dr. Tsiapali joined UM Capital Region Health to establish a comprehensive breast cancer program that will address the gaps in breast health in Prince George’s County. As a fellowship-trained breast surgeon, she has been exposed to multidisciplinary aspects of care and introduced to advanced research and techniques.

Some of the lifestyle-related risks associated with breast cancer include obesity—especially after menopause, alcohol consumption and smoking. Aside from those, family history, early onset of menstrual cycles, late menopause, hormone replacement therapy and having children later in life can increase the risk for breast cancer. 

If a woman does have a family history, genetic testing for hereditary breast cancer can expose them to preventive surgeries and medications to reduce their risk. 

Regular clinical breast exams and mammograms are extremely important for early detection and treatment of breast cancer. Most women should get them at least once a year, but depending on family history, they may be suggested more frequently. 

Dr. Tsiapali recommends that women start getting mammograms at age 40, but if a woman has a genetic mutation that predisposes them to breast cancer, they may start at age 25. 

Although there is no research to support breast self-examinations being effective in detecting cancer, it is important for women to be familiar with their own breasts, so they have a sense of what’s normal and can alert a healthcare provider if they notice changes. 

The most common sign of breast cancer is a new lump or mass. They are often firm, painless and immovable. Other symptoms include bloody and clear discharge from the nipple and lingering rashes on the nipple or breast skin. 

According to Dr. Tsiapali, there have been significant improvements in breast cancer research and treatment over the years. There are new medication options, and some of the subtypes that were once considered highly aggressive are now more easily manageable. Chemotherapy is also used less frequently today. 

Breast surgeons have also made strides in de-escalating surgery, which is less invasive and gives better cosmetic results. 

Dr. Tsiapali encouraged more Black women to participate in clinical trials for breast cancer to represent their racial group and ensure that treatments are equally effective as they are developed. 

“African-American women have some special challenges to deal with when it comes to breast cancer, so it’s all the more important to screen frequently and seek good quality services when it comes to breast health,” said Dr. Tsiapali.

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