Early detection is the best protection. “Even though Black women are more likely to have triple-negative breast cancer, if we catch these women at the earliest stage of that breast cancer, there is a better chance for survival,” says Dr. Bea.
The American Cancer Society says women should have the choice to start screening with yearly mammograms as early as age 40 if they want to, and recommends women should begin having yearly mammograms by age 45, which can change to every other year beginning at age 55. If you have a family history, you should start screenings earlier. “Black women are more likely to be diagnosed at a younger age with the more aggressive tumor subtype, so I recommend going annually starting at the age of 40,” says Dr. Bea.
If you’re nervous about getting a mammogram, Dr. Bea recommends going with a friend so you can hold each other accountable and have moral support. “I understand that it is not a piece of cake for everyone and can be nerve-wracking,” she says. “Maybe do a spa day or a girls’ day after to ease the stress and anxiety around the appointment. Take the focus off the mammogram and make it a whole ritual.”
Through a multi-institutional grant she received from the American Cancer Society and Pfizer, Dr. Bea is focusing on improving access to screening mammography for Black women in the Brooklyn community by extending hours at NewYork-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital a few times a month and providing access to breast imaging at NewYork-Presbyterian Lower Manhattan Hospital.
“We are also working with navigators within faith-based organizations to help get the word out and encourage women in their church to receive their annual mammogram, even in the era of COVID-19,” she says.