Black women at risk for rare cancer

Inflammatory breast cancer may be unknown to many people, but black women may want to pay attention to this rare disease because experts said black women are at the highest risk to catch it.

Ginny Mason, a survivor and researcher at the Inflammatory Breast Cancer Foundation, wants people to know a fact about breast cancer that is not often promoted. “You don’t have to have a lump to have breast cancer,” Mason said.

The National Cancer Institute states that in order to detect IBC, a lump is the last symptom for which people should look. IBC is very rare, but it is a serious and aggressive form of breast cancer; it affects the breasts through a redness that can either be seen on part of or the entire breast, the NCI said.

Sometimes IBC is misdiagnosed as an infection, and a lump is present in about 50 percent of women, the NCI stated. But it may be hard to feel the lump since the breasts are usually bigger and harder than normal with IBC.

Researchers at the NCI said that black women had more reported cases of inflammatory breast cancer than white women.

Dearline Thomas-Brown, the lead nurse case manager for the breast and cervical cancer program at the Leon County Health Department, expressed her concerns with black women and their precautions when checking for inflammatory breast cancer.

“A lot of women don’t even look at the breast,” Thomas-Brown said. “African American women think that they can’t get skin cancer because of our pigmentation,” she said, referring to the fact that black women have a darker pigmentation than white women, and sometimes the redness on the breast may go unnoticed.

“It’s more prevalent in whites because their skin is lighter in pigment,” said Thomas-Brown. “Believe it or not, inflammatory breast cancer is 1 percent of all breast cancers.”

The NCI said the survival rates are lower for IBC than for other types of breast cancer.

When black women are diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer, they are more likely to live a shorter time than white women after diagnosis.

Most breast cancer facts say that women who have breast cancer in their family history should be even more cautious than women who do not.

But statistics show that is not always the case, said Susie Bolton, a clinical educator at the Capital Regional Medical Center.

“Family history is one of your risk factors and it does increase your chances. But 85 percent of women who have breast cancer have no family history (of breast cancer),” Bolton said.

The NCI states that an aggressive treatment is necessary when treating IBC, and the treatment plans are customized to fit how severe the IBC is. Treatments can range from medicines, surgery and radiation.

Bolton said the median age range for IBC is usually 45-55 years old, but the patients could still be younger.

“It’s definitely a red flag; it’s scary,” Bolton said. “Practice self-breast exams as early as the onset of puberty.”

Bolton recommended being familiar with the breasts and how to detect symptoms of breast cancer by learning how to do self-breast exams.

Bolton said it is the only way people, especially women, are going to get an early detection of any kind of breast cancers. “If you’re not in routine of doing self-breast exams, you may just be in denial that at your young age that nothing could happen to you,” Bolton said.