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Native Americans are at risk for breast cancer and should be aware of the facts

Every three minutes a woman in the U.S. is diagnosed with breast cancer. Every 13 minutes a woman in the U.S. dies from breast cancer. Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer and the second leading cause of cancer death in women, after lung cancer.

Cancer alone has become a growing concern in Native Americans. Unfortunately, cancer data on Native Americans is limited because of low clinical trial participation, unidentified information on health forms and communities not on cancer registries.

With breast cancer rates continuing to rise, it is estimated that one in eight women will develop invasive breast cancer at some point in their lives. Native Americans fortunately have the lowest risk of developing breast cancer among ethnic groups. However, if diagnosed, they have a higher rate of mortality.

The reason for this alarming statistic rests with the fact that Native Americans tend to find out about having breast cancer at a later stage when it is far more advanced and harder to treat. Few Native women get their annual breast cancer screening, which causes late diagnoses, but regular screening help with early detection.

No guaranteed prevention exists, but women can reduce their risk by limiting their intake of alcohol and maintaining a healthy, active lifestyle.

Numerous studies have proven a clear link between the use of alcohol and an increased risk of developing breast cancer. The risk increases with the more alcohol consumed. The American Cancer Society recommends that women limit their alcohol use to one alcoholic drink a day.

Maintaining a healthy weight has also proven to reduce the risk of breast cancer. Overweight women battle higher blood insulin levels, and high insulin levels affect the risk of breast cancer. After menopause, weight becomes a more important issue because of estrogen levels.

Balancing diet and physical activity can reduce a woman’s risk by 18 percent, according to a study from the Women’s Health Initiative. As little as 1.25 to 2.5 hours per week of brisk walking can help reduce the risk of breast cancer.

It is recommended for early breast cancer detection that women ages 40 and older receive a mammogram every year, and old age should not be a reason to stop having annual mammograms. As long as a woman is in good health and is able to receive treatment, she should continue to receive her screening.

In addition, women in their 20s and 30s should have a clinical breast exam (CBE) every year as part of their regular health exam. Breast self-exams should also be conducted to notice any breast changes in between exams.

Breast cancer is hereditary. Having a first-degree relative – such as a mother, sister or daughter – with breast cancer doubles a woman’s risk. Knowing family history helps with early detection.

While breast cancer is normally associated with women, men too can develop breast cancer and should also be aware and speak to their physicians.

There is hope for those diagnosed with breast cancer. In 2010, more than 2.5 million people affected by breast cancer in the U.S. survived.

The Seminole Tribe of Florida’s Health Department is readily available to answer any questions or concerns regarding breast cancer. In honor of October being Breast Cancer Awareness month, the mobile mammogram bus will make visits to the different reservations offering free mammogram screenings to Tribal members.

Also, the Health Department offers programs, such as the Pathways walking program and individual nutritional counseling, to help Tribal members stay healthy and active, all helping to reduce the risk of breast cancer.

For more on what’s readily available, contact your local reservation’s Health Department.



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