February 28, 2010
Breast Cancer strikes women of all backgrounds, races, ethnicities and ages; however, certain populations are not only more vulnerable to this disease but are also at risk for higher mortality rates.
Ashkenazi Jewish women and young African-American women have an increased risk of breast cancer. Ashkenazi women are at greater risk for carrying the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations which significantly increases their risk for breast cancer. Women with BRCA1 and BRCA2 abnormalities are at increased risk of developing ovarian cancer. The lifetime risk is about 55% for women with BRCA1 mutations and about 25% for women with BRCA2 mutations. Caucasian women have a slightly higher risk than African- American women. African- American women with breast cancer have a higher risk of dying from the cancer because they are more likely to have an aggressive form of the disease. While the focus is on women, men also have BRCA gene mutations and are at increased risk of developing breast cancer. While women with BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations have a lifetime breast cancer risk of up to 80%, the risk, though much less lower, does exist for men. The lifetime breast cancer risk for men with BRCA2 mutations is about 5% to 10%. BRCA1 plays a role in only a small amount of male breast cancers, but it is more common in Jewish men.
Breast Cancer is still the leading cause of cancer deaths among all women under the age of 45. This is in part due to the lack of awareness and education in that age group. Breast cancer in young women is more aggressive, and delays in diagnosis and treatment can have serious and deadly consequences. Breast cancer education and awareness, which includes encouraging women to talk to their health care professional about individual risk and an appropriate screening plan, are vital keys to increasing survival rate when struck with this disease. Young women faced with breast cancer also have unique challenges since they are in their prime childbearing years and may need fertility counseling, family counseling, genetic counseling, and social and psychological support.
The JCPA believes that:
- Breast Cancer awareness must begin at an early age, especially for those with a family history, and include education and appropriate screening to ensure that women are knowledgeable of risks. Only then, can they make proactive decisions that may save their lives and maximize their chance for a healthy and productive future.
The community relations field should:
- Support appropriate legislation and public health measures to educate young women and their health care professionals about breast cancer: give them access to the best information to reduce their risks and provide the tools for seeking assistance for their special needs including, fertility preservation counseling, genetic counseling, social and psychological support and recurrence prevention training. Further, the field should support prevention – oriented public health policies and a precautionary approach to chemicals policy that makes protecting human health its top priority.
- Support public education campaigns targeting young women generally at high school and university ages and support similar outreach to young women in specific higher risk populations.
- Support a educational campaign for healthcare professionals to increase awareness of risk factors, safe and effective risk reduction strategies, early diagnosis techniques and treatment practices particularly for women under the age of 45.
- Support the creation of materials to assist health care professionals in helping young women diagnosed with breast cancer address the long-term life-changing effects of the disease, including infertility, short and long term consequences of treatment and risk of subsequent malignancies.
- Support prevention research activities to create standards for the best practices to promote early detection and healthier lifestyles.
- Support increased funding for research into the environmental and other causes of breast cancer.
- Support access to digital mammography.
- Support insurance coverage for second opinions for treatment options and diagnosis.
- Support legislation and programs that promote inclusive screening for all women regardless of socio-economic factors.
- Urge continued screening be covered by insurance starting at age 40, as per recommendations by American Cancer Society