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.
In 2023, the United States Preventive Services Task Force took a significant step toward encouraging early detection when it changed its guidelines to recommend that women with average risk get mammograms starting at age 40 instead of 50. And the JAMA Open Network study makes a case that doctors and health policymakers consider a woman’s race and ethnicity when advising them when to start screening so that those who are at high-risk are screened earlier to address deaths caused by early-onset breast cancer.
Dr. Bea says it’s essential that Black women get screened early.
“Black women are more likely to be diagnosed at a younger age with the more aggressive tumor subtype, so I recommend that Black women have a risk assessment completed at age 25 — and definitely by age 30 — by a breast expert and, if possible, one who has experience in treating diverse populations,” Dr. Bea says.
She follows guidelines that recommend that average-risk women start screening at age 40. “For patients who are at high risk for breast cancer based on a risk assessment, screening should start before 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.
“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,” she says.