What Young Moms Need to Know About Breast Cancer

This guest post is from Marc Hurlbert, Ph.D., executive director of the Avon Foundation Breast Cancer Crusade. He shares important research showing the large disparity in breast cancer survival rates between white and black women—mainly due to societal factors, such as access to early detection programs, screenings, and quality treatments—and tips on what can be done to close the gap.

Many young mothers are often too busy to think about their health between running on little-to-no sleep and worrying about their around-the-clock childcare schedule. But it is critical to take care of yourself and understand your health risks, especially since women are at an increased risk for developing breast cancer for up to five years (or longer) after giving birth, known as pregnancy-associated breast cancer.

Why? Because the hormones that prepare the breast to lactate can also fuel a cancer cell. Although pregnancy-associated breast cancer is rare, and less than 5% of breast cancers cases are found in women younger than 40 each year, moms in their 20s and 30s who are too young to be screened still need to be aware and report any changes in their breasts to their doctor.

And while medical researchers have made significant advancements in improving breast cancer survival rates, many women—especially black women—have not benefitted, and the disease remains the leading cause of cancer death among women worldwide.

An Avon Foundation for Women-funded study on racial differences in breast cancer found a significant disparity in breast cancer mortality between black and white women in the United States over the last 20 years. Researchers found that 39 of the largest U.S. cities studied have a black:white breast cancer survival gap, and of the 39 cities, 23 were statistically significant. The disparity has also widened in 35 cities, from 1990 to 2009, because even though there have been advances in diagnosis and treatment, many black women were not able to access them.

The study’s results are alarming, but because the contributing factors are largely societal, we believe this problem can be remedied. Here are four important steps all women can take to reduce their risk and help close the gap:

  1. Seek access to early detection programs and screening. Low-income, uninsured, and underinsured women can visit www.cdc.gov/cancer/breast to find low-cost breast cancer screenings across the United States.
  2. If you are diagnosed with breast cancer, follow up immediately with your doctor to ensure timely and higher quality cancer care. Patient navigators can help you, your family, and caregivers navigate the medical and financial maze of the health care system, from an abnormal screen through diagnosis, treatment, and survivorship. Click here to find an Avon-funded hospital in your home state.
  3. New moms should breastfeed immediately after giving birth, if they are able to. Breastfeeding may help lower breast cancer risk. Experts recommend nursing a newborn within an hour of giving birth, if possible, and not supplementing with formula while in the hospital. Doctors recommend new mothers should breastfeed for at least six months.
  4. Get some exercise. Brisk walking for one hour a day can your reduce risk by more than 15%. The American Cancer Society recommends you engage in at least 45 minutes of physical activity at least 5 days a week. Why not sign up for an Avon Walk for Breast Cancer?

For more information on how all women can reduce their risk, read more facts here. Learn more about the study and what the Avon Foundation is doing to address disparities in breast cancer.

Pain-Free Breastfeeding
Pain-Free Breastfeeding
Pain-Free Breastfeeding

Image: Women wearing pink for breast cancer via Shutterstock

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