In the early days of the COVID pandemic, the message was pretty clear: don’t leave your house, don’t see anyone, cancel all your appointments. A lot of doctors’ offices closed down, cancelling surgeries and procedures. But nearly a year later, we’re finding out that breast cancer didn’t stop with everything else. We at TOUCH, The Black Breast Cancer Alliance are terrified about what the incidence and mortality rates of Black Breast Cancer will look like a year from now. We need to listen to the advice of leading Black breast cancer surgeons like our TOUCHBBCA medical advisors, Dr. Monique Gary, Dr. Lina Romero, and Dr. Regina Hampton, who are shouting from the rooftops #cancerdoesntquarantine.
At the beginning of the pandemic—last March and April—researchers and providers across the country reported that important cancer screenings, such as mammograms, were down between 85% and 94.6% (Cancer; COA report; EHRN). Back in June, IQVIA Institute for Human Data Science predicted that over 7.2 million breast cancer screenings had already been canceled or delayed because of the pandemic, leading to 36,000 missed breast cancer diagnosis just in that three-month window. In a January episode of ‘The Doctor Is In,’ Dr. Monique Gary estimated that cancer screenings were still down roughly 61% from where they were last year.
These missed and delayed screenings are costing lives. According to the director of the National Cancer Institute, delayed or missed breast and colorectal cancer screenings and treatments will be responsible for more than 10,000 excess deaths over the next decade.
For Black women—who already die from breast cancer at a 42% higher rate than white women and are more likely to be diagnosed at later stages with aggressive, fast-moving forms of breast cancer—these numbers barely scratch the surface. As Dr. Regina Hampton puts it, “we just can’t afford to wait.”
Who should be getting screened?
All three of our doctors agree: Black women should be screened every single year starting at 40 years old! And, you must know your ‘HERstory’—if a family member (male or female) had cancer under the age of 40, you should be screened every year starting at age 30. According to the American College of Radiology, all Black women should get a risk assessment from a gynecologist, a breast specialist, or genetic counselor before the age of 30 to find out when they need screening. Most importantly, anyone who feels a lump or has an unusual symptom should see a doctor ASAP, regardless of age.
Let’s talk about why YOU haven’t you gotten a mammogram this year!
- You don’t know you’re in danger.
You think delaying your screening isn’t a big deal—you feel fine, a few months won’t hurt—but timing is everything with Black Breast Cancer. According to a January 2021 JAMA Oncology article, Black women have a 71% higher adjusted relative risk of death than white women. Black women under the age of 35 also get breast cancer at twice the rate and die at three times the rate (American Cancer Society). A few months could make all the difference for you.
2. You’re afraid you may catch COVID from a trip to your doctor’s office.
There’s been a lot of mixed messaging around doctor’s visits the past few months. But your doctor’s office is one of the safest places you can go. Providers are being tested regularly and every patient who comes through the door has been screened for symptoms. Doctors are spacing out appointments so that waiting rooms are largely empty and staff are cleaning surfaces between patients. Most places are even asking patients to wait in their car until their appointment time.
3. You lost your job due to COVID and, with it, your health insurance.
According to Radiologic Clinics of North America, “nearly 4 out of 10 patients said the economic changes from the pandemic affected their ability to pay for medical care.” If you are worried about the cost of a mammogram, start by talking to your healthcare provider. Dr. Regina Hampton also suggests visiting the website for the CDC’s National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program (https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/nbccedp/).
4. You have no one to watch your kids if you leave home for a few hours.
Finding childcare during COVID can feel impossible. But it’s a great time to turn breast cancer into a family and sista-friend conversation. As Dr. Lina Romero urges, “make booking your screening a family affair.” Ask a sista-friend or family member to watch your kids while you get screened and offer to return the favor for their screening. We’ve got to take care of each other.
5. You’ll get around to rescheduling your screening one of these days.
Doctor’s offices are already seeing backlogs in screening appointments due to spaced out appointment times. Add in nine months of screenings to reschedule and most clinics are already booking out to March or later. Listen to Dr. Romero: “While you’re waiting for your COVID vaccine, please call to get your mammogram back on the books today!” The sooner you get on the books, the sooner you’ll be seen!
If you aren’t sure where to get a mammogram, start by asking your primary care doctor or gynecologist. Most insurance company websites also offer provider searches that can direct you to an in-network mammogram. Make sure that wherever you go is an American College of Radiology accredited site. And don’t forget to ask for a 3-D mammogram! Black women have a 44.9% higher volumetric breast density than white women (JNCI). Some studies have shown that women with extremely dense breasts have a four to six times greater risk of developing breast cancer than women with mostly fatty breasts.
If you need help, reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 443-758-1924. We are always here for you.
A few final words of advice from our TOUCHBBCA Medical Director, Dr. Monique Gary: “Like the American Society for Breast Surgeons says in our advocacy campaign, ‘Mask Up for your Mammo! NOW’s the Time!’”
TOUCH, The Black Breast Cancer Alliance