Living Through Breast Cancer

black women with breast cancer and treatments

You become a cancer survivor the moment you are diagnosed with breast cancer. You will experience anger, confusion, fear, frustration, a loss of control, pain, a sense of isolation and extreme life changes. As you progress through treatment, you can find strength to fight this disease. You will find courage and hope as you learn to live with cancer and live after cancer through your lifetime.

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After you have been diagnosed with breast cancer, your doctor will develop a treatment plan for you. You will have a variety of medical team members such as clinic nurses, cancer care coordinator, surgeon, radiologists, chemotherapy team, plastic surgeon, and others as needed. Always make sure you understand the treatment plan and the expected outcomes. An evaluation of your medical concerns, personal preferences and treatment recommendations will be discussed with you.

Options may include breast surgery as local treatments such as:

  • Lumpectomy
  • Simple or Total Mastectomy
  • Modified Radical Mastectomy
  • Radical Mastectomy
  • Sentinel lymph node biopsy
  • Axillary lymph node dissection
  • Breast reconstruction

Follow-up Treatment

Adjuvant, systemic treatments may be given before and/or after surgical treatments have been performed to help kill any cancers that may still be in the body after surgery. Systemic therapy also keeps cancer cells from growing, recurring and spreading to other parts of the body. Depending on the size of the tumor, pathology and stage of the cancer.

Follow-up therapies may be given before and/or after surgical treatment:

  • Chemotherapy
  • Hormonal therapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Targeted therapy

Keep the surgical site clean and dry as possible.

Surgery: What to Expect

It helps to prepare yourself emotionally and physically for breast cancer surgery and the loss of a portion or your whole breast(s). Recovery from reconstructive breast surgery is similar. Make sure you understand the surgery and the aftercare required. Review the information your plastic surgeon has given you about your type of breast surgery.

Breast surgery generally can be a 1-day outpatient or extended stay inpatient for Lumpectomy or several days in-patient for Mastectomy depending on your general health condition.

Some hospitals give patients a special garment called a “Softee” or a temporary prosthesis for full and partial mastectomy patients to wear home. You can undergo an assessment later for a custom fitted prosthesis, which is covered by most insurance providers with authorization from your physician.

You will have pain and limited movement after surgery in the breast and chest area, under your arms and even in your back. Be careful and give yourself time to heal.

Wear loose and comfortable clothing that does not restrict movement.

Keep the surgical site clean and dry as possible.

Inform your doctor if you experience surgical bleeding, blood clots, fluid buildup, infections, pain, swelling, or other problems in or around the surgical site(s), arms or chest areas.

You may have drainage tubes that will be removed in about 2 weeks after surgery. Drainage tube removal can be uncomfortable.

After the bandages are removed, look at yourself in the mirror when you are ready. This may be an emotional experience and it may be helpful to rely on someone from your support network to discuss your feelings.

Everyone’s cancer experience is different. Their type of cancer is unique. Treatments and surgeries will look different depending on the location and size of the tumor(s) and size of the breasts. The length of time it takes to recover and heal is determined by type of breast cancer and treatments.

Your plastic surgeon will advise you about showering, bathing, and wound care. Most women return to normal activities within 6 to 8 weeks after surgery. It may be several weeks before you can do strenuous exercise.

Do not drive, carry or lift heavy objects, and no cleaning, mopping, or vacuuming with your surgical arm(s) until your doctor approves it about six weeks after surgery. Doing heavy and repetitive activities can cause arm swelling, fluid retention in the arms, lymph edema, nerve pain and wound infection. Ask someone for help with household chores and shopping.

Surgical scars and numbness will take years to heal and fade. Using a gentle lubricant cream or shea butter daily on the scars will help them heal and break down the connective tissue alleviating tightness.

Wait until you heal from surgery to be fitted for a post mastectomy bra and prosthesis for the best fit and a more comfortable experience.

Discuss other types of breast surgeries with your doctors such as reconstructive surgery for nipples, tattoos for areolas or surgical scars.

Breast cancer surgery changes your appearance, and it can have psychological effects on you and others as well.

Ask for help in adjusting to the new you.

Sources: American Cancer Society,, and Breast Cancer Doctor.

After breast cancer surgery your arm(s), back and neck may have reduced mobility. Your healthcare provider can provide you with information on exercises to restore your range of motion, reduce swelling and prevent a condition known as “frozen shoulder.”

Check with your healthcare provider about when to begin post-surgery exercise.

The recommended exercises may start with gentle and slow stretching, shoulder rotations, daily finger wall climbing and then progress to beginning Pilates or Yoga as your comfort increases.

Continue with gentle exercises and stretching to rebuild your range of motion and strength in your arm(s).

Click on the links below for more exercises and information.

As you heal we recommend a self-care plan so you get some relief from the side effects of chemotherapy, hormone therapy, radiation therapy and surgery in your journey of survivorship.

Also be aware there are small risks of developing blood clots, stroke, other cancers, weakness to the heart from chemotherapy and radiation.

Chemotherapy kills cancer cells and good cells from head to toe which can lessen your body’s ability to fight off infections.

To be safe, it is best to:

  • Do dental work BEFORE surgeries, chemotherapy or other treatments to avoid bleeding and infections.  Ask your dentist about special dental cleansers and saliva substitutes.  No hard brushing or flossing of the gums and teeth; be gentle.
  • Ask family members or friends to help you with child care, grocery shopping, housework, preparing meals, transportation, pet care, pick up prescriptions and accompanying you on medical appointments.  Avoid heavy housework or lifting using arms after surgery.
  • Be careful when cooking, cutting, and sewing; avoid burns, cuts, needle pricks to your hands.
  • Wear rubber gloves when washing dishes, using cleaning products, or working in the garden.
  • Wear a hat, long sleeves, and use sunscreen during hot sunny days to avoid sunburn.
  • Be careful with animals; or when outside avoid insect bites, animal bites or scratches.
  • Check your mouth and skin every day for developing mouth sores.  Sugar-free gum or hard candies may help prevent dry mouth. Avoid crunchy, hot, or spicy foods if mouth blisters or sores develop.
  • Eat more fruits, vegetables and soft foods you can tolerate.
  • Ask for medication for pain.
  • Drink lots of water to stay hydrated and flush your system. Chemotherapy drugs can build up in your body and harm your kidneys.
  • Rest as much as possible, surgery and treatments take lots of energy.
  • Tell your doctor about other health issues you have such as eczema, diabetes and high blood pressure that may complicate or counteract with your medicines and treatment.
  • Frequently wash your hands with a mild, non-fragrant, antiseptic soap and rinse thoroughly. Use moisturizing lotions such as pure Aloe Vera or Shea Butter.
  • Gentle massage and lymph edema treatments may help with fluid buildup in arms, hands, surgery areas and torso.
  • Avoid large crowds and people with colds, infections or conditions that may affect your immune system.
  • Avoid alcoholic drinks or non-prescribed drugs which can impact the effectiveness of chemotherapy to fight the cancer or delay your healing and recovery.
  • Avoid blood draws or pressure checks or injections on the surgery side for five years which can affect your lymph nodes and cause infection.
  • Do not wear tight clothing or jewelry on your surgical arm(s).
  • Use a cream hair remover or electric razor to remove underarm or body hair as the surgery areas heal.
  • Avoid hair weaves, hair perms or gluing hair tracks to the scalp.
  • Find salon professionals in your home area that have been trained in cancer hair and scalp care, oncology massage, and nail and skin care.
  • Avoid manicures or pedicures; nail polish is OK, but do not cut the cuticles which can lead to infection.
  • Seek emotional care, spiritual healing and mental health therapy to deal with your feelings.
  • Enjoy time with family and friends as you attend family gatherings and events.
  • Take time to do what is best for you, get the help you need and understand each step along the way.
  • Celebrate every healing milestone.  Live life to the fullest.
Resources for hair, nails and skincare training can be found at:

Common Side Effects of Treatments

You may have some or many of these side effects which are the norm, but always bring them to the attention of your healthcare provider.  Sometimes the side effects can be the most annoying in the cancer experiences and show up later.  Keeping a record of side effects as they occur may be helpful when you discuss them during follow up appointments.

  • Allergic reactions to medicines
  • Appetite Loss
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Change in sense of smell and taste
  • Constipation
  • Decreased Sexual Interest
  • Depression, Mood Swings
  • Diarrhea
  • Darkening of complexion, gums, hands, feet, nails, tongue
  • Dizziness
  • Dryness of skin, vaginal dryness
  • Fatigue
  • Hair Loss (facial, head only, all over body)
  • Hot Flashes
  • Infections
  • Loss of menstrual period
  • Loss of fingernails or toenails
  • Menopause
  • Mouth sores
  • Nausea
  • Numbness in breast, feet, fingers, toes, or underarm (neuropathy).
  • Pain from surgery or other treatments
  • Radiation site burn, skin hardening
  • Reduced red and white blood cells and platelet count
  • Skin blisters or burns
  • Soreness
  • Swelling
  • Tingling in fingers, toes or other body parts
  • Vomiting
  • Weight Changes (Gain or Loss)


Different parts of your life may be affected by breast cancer, in some cases drastically.

After a breast cancer diagnosis, chemotherapy, surgery, radiation therapy or hormone therapy and the side effects, you may need to navigate a new course of action for your everyday life and lifestyle.  Some things will definitely be different.  For real!

This will be a real adjustment as you juggle your breast cancer treatments with other people in your life.  Family and friends can support you in your recovery.  Let them know what type of support you need and how you are feeling as you navigate your journey.  It is OK to say no if you are not feeling well enough for visitors.  Find your comfort level as you move forward, but do not feel pressured to stepping back into your family “caretaker” routine.  If you are not feeling confident, healed, are feeling tired or uncomfortable, do not engage in any role, relationship or activity until you are ready and able.  It may take a while so everyone must be patient and keep communication open for best results of a new “normal” life with breast cancer.

Your Body Image, Self- Image and Sexuality:

  • Go to a professional bra fitter for the fight size bra and prosthesis as needed.
  • Consider breast reconstruction through your insurance provider.
  • Get a mini-makeover as you hair and skin change.
  • Buy some cute wigs and have fun with a new hairstyle.
  • Sign up for the “Look Good, Feel Better” classes by the American Cancer Society, (1-800-227-2345).
  • Chemotherapy can cause early menopause and you can experience uncomfortable hot flashes and excessive sweating.  It helps to drink a lot of water to maintain hydration.
  • Breasts are part of your body; your life is not dependent upon them.


  • Do not put your life on hold; you have too much to do on this journey.
  • Take your time to heal emotionally as your feeling will fluctuate with different situations.
  • People may be unsure how to appropriately respond to your diagnosis, as you respond to the changes and feeling you are experiencing.  Seek help from a psychologist or mental health professional as you encounter positive and negative situations.

Supporting Your Children:

  • Children need coping resources to understand what is happening to their parent and how their routine will change.  Find a support group for them to attend with other children because they are afraid and may be angry their life has changed as your life changes.  Read books such as “Mommy Has Cancer” to help them adjust to your diagnosis and treatments.
  • Laugh and play with the children in your life; enjoy their caring playfulness as it helps to reduce sadness and tension.
  • Be careful about lifting children if you have not recovered from surgery or radiation treatments.  The muscles and skin must heal properly before any strenuous activities.

Health and Wellness:

  • Eat healthy foods that feel good and taste good.  Do not lose a lot of weight during chemotherapy.  Work with a nutritionist to maintain a healthy weight.
  • Exercise and healthy eating helps build your immune system.

Relationships, Dating or Starting a New Relationship, Sexuality

  • If your feelings about your body and having sex change during your cancer treatment, it does not mean that it will last forever.  If you are able to talk to your partner, spouse, doctor or nurses about your worries it can ease them. They may be able to suggest ways to help improve any problems you are having.
  • Do not rush or feel obligated to perform sexually.  Give yourself a couple of months to adjust to the emotional and physical changes in your body and treatments that cause:
    • anxiety or tension
    • bowel problems such as diarrhea
    • bladder problems
    • breathing problems
    • changes in your sex hormones
    • dry skin, vaginal dryness
    • irritability
    • mouth problems
    • nausea or vomiting
    • pain
    • sadness or depression
    • skin changes or scarring
    • tiredness (fatigue)

Wait until you have “that caring and loving feeling” before acting too soon.

If you are single, you may have concerns about starting a new relationship, dealing with surgical changes to your breast(s), infertility, and treatment after effects or coping with rejection.  You can share your cancer history when you are ready to have those conversations.  Take your time, screen people and their attitudes about cancer as you build your trust with new people you meet before bringing them into your life.

If you have a partner, you can focus on showing your feelings for one another in other ways by:

  • enjoying being close to each other
  • touching and stroking
  • kissing
  • massaging
  • talking
  • holding hands

Your Fertility and Future Pregnancies

  • Sometime chemotherapy will affect your fertility and ability to have children.  Discuss these concerns with your doctors in order to create a plan for future pregnancies or if you are having fears about getting pregnant.  Many women have had healthy childbirth after chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

Sources: and

Breast cancer that returns following breast cancer treatment is called recurrence. There is a 5% chance that a cancer can return after completing cancer treatment anytime in a lifetime.

Recurrence can happen involving the same breast, the opposite breast or in a completely different area of the body.

While you may be afraid and discouraged by a new diagnosis, adjusting to this new chapter in your life means once again taking charge of your treatment plan. Your understanding of new treatments, building your medical team and your resolve to fight this cancer recurrence are crucial to your survival.

  • Always follow-up with your medical provider immediately if you notice changes in your breasts or body such as:
  • Return of the cancer symptoms you had before (for example, a lump, skin changes, or new growth where your cancer first started)
  • Allergic reactions such as rashes, severe itching, swelling, or wheezing
  • Bleeding or unexplained bruising • Bloody stools or blood in your urine
  • A persistent cough that doesn’t go away • Diarrhea, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting
  • Excessive tiredness • Frequent headaches • Lumps, bumps, or swellings anywhere on your breast or body
  • Persistent chills or fevers • Shortness of breath
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Unusual pain that does not go away and is unrelated to an injury
  • Weight loss without dieting With a recurrence you need the same care and support as you did with the initial diagnosis of breast cancer.
  • In fact, you may need even more to deal with your disappointment, fear and medical treatments. As you process this news, resist the tendency to isolate yourself from your family, friends and other supports. Remember…you are not alone.

Metastatic breast cancer is known as Stage 4 breast cancer where the disease has spread to other parts of the body.

There are two important considerations that affect people with metastatic breast cancer:  1.) Dealing with your own emotions, through counseling, a support group, religion—whatever works best for you and 2.) Getting as much information as your doctor has about the likely probable progress of your illness and what it involves.

Today, more women and men with metastatic breast cancer are living longer, meaningful and productive lives.   Research continues, and at times metastatic breast cancer can be controlled for extended periods, with ongoing treatment.

No one knows how long someone with metastatic breast cancer will live. That’s why the second primary goal in treating metastatic breast cancer is keeping women feeling as good as they can for as long as they can.

Palliative care is symptom management and is very helpful. It is provided by a palliative care team, which can include a doctor, nurse, social worker, chaplain, counselor, pharmacist, dietitian, rehabilitation specialist, physical therapist, music and art therapists, and home health aides.  Their focus is reducing or eliminating your pain and other symptoms, addressing your emotional and spiritual concerns and, in general, improving your quality of life.

During and after your treatment for metastatic disease you’ll be followed with the staging tests—bone scan, chest X-ray, and blood tests—as well as a few other tests such as CT scans, PET scans, or MRI.  These can help determine if you’re indeed responding to treatment, although your symptoms are the best test of effectiveness.  Also, let your doctors know if or when you are experiencing pain.

Take Care of Yourself Emotionally

Women with metastatic disease often feel very isolated.  Other survivors, finding their stories too scary, may not want to listen to them, and family and friends may not be able to deal with the seriousness of the situation. Luckily there are many women living with breast cancer recurrences and metastatic disease.

Ask your doctor, patient navigator or social worker for referrals to organizations or patients offering education and support for people living with advanced breast cancer.

Your life has a passion and a purpose.  Fill it up with all of the good stuff you can every day.  We encourage you to continue to enjoy your favorite activities with family and friends, make new friends, seek new affirming experiences; take it step by step, day by day, live your life to the fullest and do not give up hope.


Printable Files

Breast Cancer 411

women holding breast cancer ribbion
Breast Cancer 411 (PDF)

Breast Cancer 411 is general information to help you understand breast cancer:

• Facts and myths
• Signs, symptoms and types
• Detection tests, tools and technologies
• Statistics
• Risk factors
• Diagnostic techniques
• Stages of breast cancer and treatment options

For detailed information, please refer to medical professionals and resources about breast cancer.

We hope you find our website to be a useful resource, and we wish you all the best.

Facts and Myths about Breast Cancer

What breast cancer is (Fact):
• A very common disease among women of all ages
• The leading cause of cancer death in black women
• Not your fault

What could have an effect on developing breast cancer (Fact):
• Alcohol consumption
• Environmental chemicals and pollutants
• Family genetics
• Fried, grilled meats and high fat diet
• Inactivity, no exercise
• Obesity, overweight
• Smoking

What does not cause breast cancer or cancer death (Fact):
• Abortions
• An injury to the breast
• Antiperspirants, deodorants
• Bad behavior or “karma”
• Bras with underwire
• Breast-feeding
• Caffeine or Coffee
• Emotional stress
• Jogging
• Mammograms
• Seat belts
• Talking with or touching someone with cancer
What cures breast cancer naturally (Myth)
• Apricot pits
• Eating broccoli by the bushel
• Shark fins
• Spinning around in circles with a pot on your head

Signs, Symptoms and Types

Cancer Basics

Cancer is a disease that occurs when abnormal cells divide out of control and destroy tissue. This continuous cell division results in a malignant tumor. When malignant cells develop in the tissues of the breast, it is breast cancer. These cancerous cells can spread to the lymph nodes, and possibly to other organs of the body.

Anyone with breast tissue can develop breast cancer, which affects primarily women. A woman’s chance of being diagnosed is one out of eight (1 of 8) by the time she is 80 years old. Men can also develop breast cancer, which about one out of 100 men.

Symptoms of breast cancer vary from person to person. Some common warning signs and symptoms include:
• A breast lump or thickening on or inside of the breast
• Skin changes, such as swelling, redness, scaling or other visible
• Change in the shape and/or size of one or both breasts
• Changes in the appearance of one or both nipples
• Nipple discharge that is bloody, clear, greenish, pus, other than
breast milk
• General pain in/on any part of the breast
• Irritated or itchy breasts
• Change in breast color
• Changes in touch (may feel hard, tender or warm)
• Peeling or flaking of the nipple skin
• Redness or pitting of the breast skin (like the skin of an orange)

Breast Cancer Statistics – The Basics

The breast is consisted of billions of microscopic cells. These cells when healthy, multiply in an orderly fashion. New healthy cells are made to replace existing cells that die. Cells with cancer multiply uncontrollably and have a negative impact on the functioning of surrounding healthy cells. Breast cancer is a common disease in which cells in the breast divide, grow out of control and become malignant. Generally, tumors in the breast tend to grow slowly. By the time a lump is large enough to feel it may have been growing for as long as 10 years. However, some breast cancer tumors can be aggressive and grow at a much faster rate. Between 50% to 75% of breast cancers, begin in the milk ducts. Another 10% to 15% begin in the lobules and other breast tissues. Cancerous cells can spread to the lymph nodes and possibly to other organs of the body. Cells may travel early in the process when the tumor is small or later when the tumor is large.

Breast cancer accounts for 16% of all female cancers and 22.9% of invasive cancers in women. 18.2% of all cancer deaths worldwide, including both males and females, are from breast cancer. More than 75% of women diagnosed with breast cancer have no known risk factors, most breast lumps are noncancerous and the majority of breast cancers are not

While the occurrence of breast cancer has increased over the years, the rate of mortality has significantly decreased with early detection and treatment resulting in more survivors.

More Black Women Die from Breast Cancer Than Any Other Cancer

African American Woman hold purple ribbon

This article written by the American Cancer Society, published February 14, 2022

For decades, lung cancer has been the leading cause of death from cancer for both Black and White men and women. However, as of 2019, breast cancer became the leading cause of cancer death for Black women.

This shift is because of steep declines in the number of lung cancer deaths in recent years due to reductions in smoking, earlier diagnosis, and advances in treatment.

Although the breast cancer death rate is also falling steadily (by a little more than 1% per year since 1995), the number of breast cancer deaths continues to rise because of the aging and growth of the population.

These are some of the key findings in Cancer Facts & Figures for African American/Black People 2022-2024, the consumer-friendly companion of the study “Cancer Statistics for African American/Black People, 2022,” published in the American Cancer Society (ACS) journal CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. ACS researchers, including Angela Giquinto, MSPH, and Rebecca Siegel, MPH, update these publications every 2 to 3 years to keep tabs on progress and monitor inequalities in new cancer cases (incidence), deaths, survival, screening, and risk factors.

The Black population is the third largest racial/ethnic group in the United States (after White and Hispanic people). It includes African Americans, whose ancestors were brought to the US involuntarily as slaves; Caribbean Americans; and recent immigrants of African descent. Black people are more likely to die from most cancers and to live the shortest amount of time after a cancer diagnosis than any other racial/ethnic group.

Cancer is the second-leading cause of death in both Black and White people, after heart disease.  The overall Black-White cancer disparity is slowly narrowing, mostly due to a steeper reduction in cigarette smoking by Black people than by White people in the 1970s and 1980s. This has resulted in a faster decline in lung and other smoking-related cancers among Black people.

A more rapid decline in prostate cancer mortality among Black men has also contributed to the decreasing overall disparity. However, the gap for many common cancers, including breast cancer, remains wide. Black women are 41% more likely to die from breast cancer than White women, despite being less likely to be diagnosed with it.



Black Women and Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is a major health concern for black women of all ages. Why?

Black women are more likely to die from breast cancer than women from other ethnic groups.

African American women are more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer at later stages of the disease and experience delays in treatment of two or more months after initial diagnosis. Long intervals between screenings, lack of timely follow-up of suspicious results, and delays in treatment after diagnosis likely contributes to the lower survival among black women.

Fear, mistrust of the healthcare system, belief in myths about cancer and lack of access to affordable healthcare following a breast cancer diagnosis can prevent a woman from taking action to manage her physical health.

Higher death rates among black women likely reflect a combination of factors, including differences in stage of cancer at diagnosis, comorbidities, obesity rates, tumor characteristics, as well as timely access to screening, diagnostic and treatment services. Black women have twice the risk of Triple-Negative breast cancer, an aggressive type of the disease. We also have a higher risk of BRCA1 and BRCA2 genetic mutations that carry a higher risk of breast cancer.

These facts are putting a tremendous burden on black women, families and communities. However, despite the statistics many black women are alive and well today because of early detection, diagnosis and treatment that can lead to great long-term results.

Knowledge and Action is Power in Your Breast Health

  • Black American women are more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer at later stages of the disease and experience delays in treatment of two or more months after initial diagnosis. Long intervals between screenings, lack of timely follow-up of suspicious results, and delays in treatment after diagnosis likely contributes to the lower survival among black women.
  • Black women are more likely to develop a form of breast cancer that spreads quickly.
  • Black women are more likely to die from breast cancer than women from other ethnic groups.
  • Fear, mistrust of the healthcare system, belief in myths about cancer and lack of access to affordable healthcare following a breast cancer diagnosis can prevent a woman from taking action to manage her physical health.
  • Higher death rates among black women likely reflect a combination of
    factors, including differences in stage of cancer at diagnosis, comorbidities, obesity rates, tumor characteristics, as well as timely access to screening, diagnostic and treatment services.
  • Black women have twice the risk of Triple-Negative breast cancer, an
    aggressive type of the disease. They also have a higher risk of BRCA1 and BRCA2 genetic mutations that carry a higher risk of breast cancer.

These facts are putting a tremendous burden on black women, families and communities. However, despite these statistics many black women are alive and well today because of early detection, diagnosis and treatment that can lead to great long-term results.

Older Women and Breast Cancer

Black Women Breast Cancer

The older you are the greater your risk of getting breast cancer. Experts believe that one in eight women who live to age 80 or more will get the disease.

About 43,250 women in the U.S. are expected to die in 2022 from breast cancer. Death rates have been steady in women under 50 since 2007 but have continued to drop in women over 50. The overall death rate from breast cancer decreased by 1% per year from 2013 to 2018. These decreases may be the result of treatment advances and earlier detection through screening.

Sadly, some elderly women diagnosed with advanced late stage breast cancer, as a result experience poor treatment outcomes, and reduced survival.

Some reasons older women neglect breast cancer detection and treatment are beliefs that mammograms are unnecessary at their age; any breast changes are a natural process of aging, religious beliefs and overall fear of a possible cancer diagnosis and treatment. Older women experience less availability of healthcare resources, lower income and lack of insurance coverage are all barriers that affect elderly women access to early detection of cancer.

Older women are encouraged to discuss with their doctors if they have:

  • an immediate family member(s) or close blood relative(s) who had/has a history of breast cancer as your own risk for developing the disease doubles
  • a personal history of gynecological cancer or previous breast cancer, the risk increases three to four-fold of developing a new cancer in the other breast
  • entered menopause later than age 55 have an increased risk likely due to increased exposure to estrogen.

Any woman, regardless of age, who has a family history of cancer, particularly breast and ovarian, should bring it to the attention of her physician, who can evaluate potential breast cancer risk, the need for genetic testing, and the proper screening plan to follow.

Treatment options for older women may change depending on the stage and type of breast cancer and if she has other health issues. Many older women with breast cancer do not die from it and can live healthy lives.

Young Women, Breast Cancer

african american women

Younger women can and do get breast cancer.

Breast cancer is not an “old women” disease. It is estimated that more than 250,000 women diagnosed with breast cancer living in the US are under age 40.

Breast cancer can occur in women as young as 15 years old. More than 13,000 young women will be diagnosed this year. When younger, pre-menopausal women are diagnosed with breast cancer it may be a more aggressive form of the disease.

What Is Different About Breast Cancer in Younger Women?

Diagnosing breast cancer in younger women is more difficult, due to their tendency to have denser/thicker breast tissue. By the time a lump in a younger woman’s breast can be detected, the cancer often is advanced. Also, breast cancer in younger women may be aggressive and less likely to respond to treatment. Women who are diagnosed with breast cancer at a younger age are more likely to have a mutated (altered) BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene.

Delays in diagnosing breast cancer also are a problem. Many younger women who have breast cancer ignore the warning signs such as a breast lump or unusual nipple discharge believing they are too young to get breast cancer. Perhaps due to a lack of awareness, denial or fear these women may think a lump is a harmless cyst or other growth or menstrual swelling. Even doctors tend to tell patients not to worry when a breast problem is found. Taking a “wait and see” attitude towards these breast cancer symptoms results in valuable time lost to diagnosis and successfully treat the disease.

Young women must persist in their efforts to be correctly diagnosed and treated for breast cancer when a family history and symptoms are found.

Women in their childbearing years need to be aware of breast cancer risks and how it can be more difficult to detect during pregnancy and after childbirth. Hormone changes during pregnancy make a woman’s breasts larger, more tender and lumpy. This can make it more difficult for the woman or her doctor to notice a lump until it gets quite large. Pregnancy makes breast tissue denser, which can hide an early cancer on
a mammogram or be mistaken for normal pregnancy breast changes that can lead to delayed diagnosis.

In general, regular mammograms are not recommended for women under 40 years old and some young women have been denied a mammogram when she presents with possible breast cancer symptoms. However, screening mammograms may be recommended for younger women with a family history of breast cancer and other risk factors. Digital 3D mammography may be a useful alternate to a standard mammogram as it is more sensitive in detecting abnormalities in dense breast tissue.

Check your breasts monthly with a Breast Self-Exam, 7 to 10 days after or before your menstrual cycle, or at a designated time if you no longer menstruate, see:

If you find a breast problem, make a clinical appointment to be checked and ask for a needle aspiration or needle biopsy to rule out possible cancer. Do not be turned away being told, “You are too young to have breast cancer”. A timely diagnosis is of the essence.

If you are diagnosed with breast cancer, check our “Questions to Ask” section to help you get informed about your condition and how it will affect your life.To find out more about breast cancer in young women, see: Young Survival

Question to Ask Your Doctor

black women doctor

When you have a mammogram, ask the doctor for the results.

If any abnormal changes are found, a biopsy will be needed to tell if cancer is present or to rule it out.

Ask the doctor the following questions:

• What kind of lump do I have?
• What type of biopsy will be done?
• How soon will I know the results?
• If I do have cancer, what happens next?
• Are more tests needed? What kind?
• Who will talk to me about treatment and what are my choices?
• What is my breast tissue density?
• What will happen if I refuse treatment?
• What stage is my breast cancer?
• Is my cancer estrogen-receptor positive or negative?
• How much experience do you have treating breast cancer?
• What treatments are recommended for me?
• How much time do I have to consider treatment options?
• Will my breast be removed or not?
• Can I have breast reconstruction after a mastectomy? If so, when is the best time?
• How effective are these treatments?
• How long will treatments last?
• Where will l receive treatments?
• How will treatments make me feel?
• Will I be able to return to work and/or take care of my children?
• What are the potential short-term and long-term side effects of treatment?
• What is my prognosis?
• What is my risk for recurrence?
• How often will I be screened for breast cancer after treatment?
• Could I get cancer in my other breast?
• Will treatment push me into early menopause?
• How will my sexual life be affected?
• Will I be able to still get pregnant and have children after treatment?
• I’m pregnant now; what happens with treatment?
• Will I be able to breast feed?
• Is genetic testing available?
• If I have a genetic mutation, should my daughter, mother or sister be screened for breast cancer?

You may want a second opinion from another doctor or other specialists, but do not delay.

Remember, you have the right to ask your doctors questions, get answers you can understand, and get proper medical care.

For more information and questions read more: click here

Take charge of your breast health with a plan of action

breast cancer newly diagnosed

Your Action Plan

  • Monthly Breast Self-Exam (BSE) starting at age 15.
  • Ask your health provider to show you how to do a proper BSE.
  • View a video to learn how to check your breasts: “How to do a Self-Breast Exam”.
  • Clinical Breast Exam (CBE) annually by your health care provider.
  • Screening Mammogram, every two years starting at 35 years of age according to your or your family cancer history.
  • Learn about your family’s cancer history and genetics, specifically cancer of the breast, colon, ovaries and prostate that are gene and hormone related.
  • Reduce your alcohol and fat intake, reduce your weight, and increase your exercise.
  • See your doctor ASAP. Early detection, diagnosis, and medical treatments help increase better outcomes and survival.
  • Ask your doctor for information about your condition and what you need to know going forward before you leave your visit.
  • You have a right to seek a second opinion, get answers you can understand and receive proper medical care.
  • Read our “Breast Cancer 411” guide, general information to help you understand breast cancer

Contact us by email or call (612) 462-6813 if you are diagnosed with breast cancer.

LGBT Women and Breast Cancer

Breast cancer affects anyone with breast, breast tissue, whether you are straight, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual woman, or a man in a same sex relationship. Breast cancer does not discriminate.

The incidence of breast cancer in gay, lesbian, and bisexual women is the same as in straight women and so are the mortality rates for LGBT Black Americans.

Breast cancer incidences increase with age in all women. Research indicates that Black LGBT women experience higher rates of breast cancer compared to straight women. The barriers women face is accessing quality health care, alcohol consumption, giving birth later in life or never experiencing childbirth, obesity, other health issues and smoking. Black LGBT women may defer early detection and breast cancer screening due to discrimination, isolation, lack of insurance, the stigma, and stress associated with their relationships and sexual orientation.

It is important to know your family medical history and if there are genetic links to breast cancer. No matter what your lifestyle is, be pro-active in your breast health; do not ignore abnormal sign in your breasts or body that might indicate a problem that needs medical attention and follow-up.

For more information about breast cancer and LGBT concerns go to:

Check out the story of Ericka Hart, a young Black LGBT woman diagnosed with breast cancer, “Faces of Strength”:

Talk to Your Doctor

Ask Your Doctor

1. All women are at risk for breast cancer. The risk increases as you age.

2. 1 in 8 women will be affected by breast cancer in their lifetime.

3. Not all breast lumps are breast cancer. 80 to 85 percent of breast lumps are benign, noncancerous, especially in women younger than age 40.

4. Black/African American women under the age of 40 can have tumors that are more aggressive and require early detection, frequent breast cancer screenings and aggressive medical treatment to increase chances of survival.

5. Rare cases of breast cancer have been found in girls as young as age 15.

6. Inform your doctor or nurse if you or your relatives have a family history of breast cancer or cancer.

7. Elderly women may be less aware of breast cancer risk factors and delay seeking medical attention. This delay may result in more advanced disease.

8. Because of the biological and racial differences in breast cancer mortality, research studies have concluded that early and frequent breast cancer screenings are essential to increasing the survival advantages for black women.

9. Breast cancer is a leading cause of cancer death among black women.

10. Do a regular self-exam, checking for any unusual changes such as:

  • Changes and lumps on the inside or outside of your breasts, chest, pectoral muscles, collarbone, nipples, torso, or underarms.
  • Strange discharge or fluid from the nipples that is bloody, clear, or pus-like that smells foul.
  • Skin changes that are bumpy, dark, different color, itchy, painful, puckered, rash-like, redness, and sores, ulcers, shrunken, swollen, or tender.

11. Men can also develop breast cancer. The signs and symptoms are the same as those for women.

12. In 2022, an estimated 287,850 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in women in the U.S., along with 51,400 new cases of non-invasive breast cancer.

13. Fortunately, survival rates are increasing due to improved breast cancer detection, as well as advances in breast cancer treatments.