Why Asians NEED To Care About Breast Cancer (Updated)

 

Exactly one year ago, we posted “Why Asians NEED To Care About Breast Cancer.” The information in that story still holds relevance and is is still extremely important to the Asian/ Asian American community. In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we bring you a very special #tbt by giving you an updated list of important reasons Asians need to care about breast cancer. 


 

Since October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we decided to look into how Asian Americans handle breast cancer. We were shocked by what we discovered.

For years now, Asians have been comforted by the fact that we have the lowest rate of breast cancer in the United States. Unfortunately, this assurance may be the very thing that hinders us from taking the necessary precautions.

Studies from both the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) have confirmed that Asian/Pacific Islanders have the lowest breast cancer rates.

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Although this is true, a number of things are not taken into consideration:

There are various types of Asians.
It is not a good idea to assume you’re safe from breast cancer simply because you’re Asian. In fact, the statistics greatly differ once we take a step closer. According to womenshealth.gov, Japanese American women have the highest rate of breast cancer among Asian Americans. Furthermore, breast cancer is the leading cause of death for Filipino women. Clearly, there are technicalities within the broad term “Asian” which should be paid attention to.

Our numbers are increasing.
Sure, we have the lowest rate of breast cancer and breast cancer deaths now, but that may be changing. Our rates are increasing faster than any other ethnic group. From 1988-2005, we’ve increased approximately 1.2% every year.

Some of us are not as safe as our parents and grandparents. 
According to sampan.org, “Immigrant Asian women who have been living in the United States for 10 years have an 80 percent higher risk of developing breast cancer than their newly arrived A&PI immigrant counterparts.”

We develop breast cancer at a younger age.
Compared to the other ethnic groups, we develop cancer at an earlier age, but we don’t know to address it earlier. In fact, many of us don’t address it at all.

Asian Americans are the least likely to ever get a mammogram.
Although Asian Americans need to take just as much precaution, we have the lowest rate of screenings. Is it because it’s taboo in our culture to discuss this issue? Is it because of the misconception that we’re relatively safe from breast cancer? Either way, there is clearly a lack of breast health/breast cancer education, screening and treatment among Asian American women.

Studies confirm that only 62% of Asian American women 40 and older have had a mammogram in the past two years. This is still the lowest percentage compared to every other ethnic community in America.

Some barriers to breast cancer screening include:
-Low income
-Lack of access to care (such as lack of a local (or easy to get to) mammography center or -Lack of transportation to a mammography center)
-Lack of a usual health care provider
-Lack of a recommendation from a provider to get mammography screening
-Lack of awareness of breast cancer risks and screening methods
-Cultural and language differences

 

 

(source 1,2,3)

Are You an Asian Female? Then Chances Are, You Have Dense Breasts: Why It Matters

 

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and this fact bears repeating: Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among Asian American women, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

But did you know this:

* Asian women historically have denser breasts than other demographic populations.


* Dense breast tissue makes it more difficult to detect cancer on a mammogram.


* Having dense breast tissue is considered a “moderate” risk for getting breast cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. Some studies show that dense breast tissue increases breast cancer risk four to six times.

 

So what are dense breasts and how do you know if you have them? Read on.

 

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What are dense breasts?

Breasts consist of varying proportions of fat and glandular tissue. When there is more than 50 percent glandular tissue, a mammogram looks white and is considered dense. You cannot tell whether your breast is dense by feel or appearance or size. (In fact, more than 40 percent of all women in the U.S. have dense breasts, and women with large breasts are less likely to have dense breasts.) It can only be evaluated by mammogram.

Why are masses more difficult to detect in dense breasts?

Since masses or lumps also appear white on a mammogram, they are difficult to detect in dense breasts. However, that doesn’t mean you should stop getting mammograms if you have dense breasts. Experts emphasize that mammograms regularly find cancers in dense breasts.

What detection method works for dense breasts?

Mammogram remains the gold standard for breast screening for all women, according to Dr. June Chen, medical director of breast radiology at Breastlink at the Breast Care and Imaging Center of Orange County. Two additional screening options for women with dense breasts include a screening breast MRI for women at high risk (family history, etc.), or an automated screening breast ultrasound (ABUS) for average risk women.

Though studies have shown that an ultrasound or MRI scanning, in addition to a mammogram, is a better detection method for those with dense breast tissue, such MRIs and ultrasounds may also show more findings that are not cancer, which can result in more tests and unnecessary biopsies, according to the American Cancer Society.

 

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So why won’t my doctor give me an ultrasound or MRI instead?

You should talk to your doctor. According to Chen, health insurance covers the cost of a screening MRI for patients with a high risk for breast cancer, but may not cover ultrasounds and MRIs for women not at high risk. Additionally, experts do not agree what other tests, if any, should be done for women with dense breasts.

A recent federal bill, called the Breast Density Mammography and Reporting Act, was introduced this summer in the Senate, which would require physicians to notify patients if they have dense breasts and discuss their risk and additional screening options. It would also support research for improved screening options for women with dense tissue. The bill was assigned to a congressional committee, which will consider it before possibly sending it on to the House or Senate as a whole, and is supported by nonprofit and advocacy organizations, including the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, Breast Cancer Fund, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, and Are You Dense Advocacy.

In the meantime, what should I do?

Talk to your doctor about your risk factors and a plan for screening. While new federal guidelines now recommend screening to begin at age 50, most doctors still recommend annual mammograms starting at age 40. Continue to do a monthly breast self-exam, get regular exercise, quit smoking (or never start) and cut down on alcohol.

 

 

This story was originally published in our Fall 2014 issue. Get your copy here.