By Ricki Fairley
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo took a step in the right direction to facilitate early detection of breast cancer by signing a bill into law. This new bill, Shannon’s Law, named in honor of Shannon Saturno because she was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 28 while pregnant with her daughter, mandates that insurance companies be required to provide mammogram screenings for individuals ages 35 and older.
This legislation represents a change from the current mammogram screening guidelines of the American Cancer Society: “Women ages 40 to 44 should have the choice to start annual breast cancer screening with mammograms, x-rays of the breast, if they wish to do so. Women age 45 to 54 should get mammograms every year. Women 55 and older should switch to mammograms every 2 years or can continue yearly screening.”
According to the American Cancer Society, Black women younger than age 35 get breast cancer at two times the rate of White women and die from breast cancer three times as often as White women.Breast cancer is the most imperative health issue for African-American women.
“Black women are at high risk for breast cancer,” said Valarie Worthy, president of Sisters Network Inc. Triangle, North Carolina Affiliate Chapter. “I wholeheartedly support getting a risk assessment at age 25.”
The American Society of Breast Surgeons takes an even more aggressive approach, recommending that risk assessment actually be done at age 25 as the first step to determining the appropriate mammogram screening guidelines. These screening recommendations for the overall diverse population of adult women represent an opportunity to minimize breast cancer disparities through earlier detection of disease in all women.
Sadly, early detection is not happening sufficiently for Black women. According to the American Cancer Society, 65 percent of white women are diagnosed at an early stage versus only 55 percent of Black women. Nearly twice as many Black women are diagnosed with late stage breast cancer versus White women.
“Frankly, if black women are at high risk for breast cancer, have a higher mortality rate and are diagnosed at later stages, it only makes sense that the screening guidelines be different and address these factors,” said Karen Eubanks Jackson, founder and CEO of Sisters Network Inc.”In fact, 25 years ago when I founded the organization, our guidelines were geared to saving the lives of black women. We recognized the disparities and therefore strongly recommended mammography at a younger age.”
In the meantime, until the world catches up to our reality, Black women must take matters of breast health into our own hands. So choose a day of the month each month and check the breasts you love.