Dr. Felicia Lonice Hamilton, OB-GYN at MedStar Health in Washington, D.C. (Courtesy photo)
Dr. Felicia Lonice Hamilton, OB-GYN at MedStar Health in Washington, D.C. (Courtesy photo)

Data related to breast cancer, the leading cause of cancer deaths among women, and more fatally among Black women, points to both racial and ethnic disparities within the health system.

And while the likeliness of a woman of color having breast cancer remains relatively the same as a white woman, there exist discrepancies with diagnosis and treatment among racial groups.

Dr. Felicia Lonice Hamilton says it’s important that physicians explore family histories to determine if early screening may be necessary for some patients. But women can also contribute to their own well-being and health.

“You need to have what’s called ‘breast awareness.’ So, we have these breasts, you know. What are they doing, right? And are you kind of familiar with them? Because they actually change as you have your cycles and different things on a monthly basis,” Dr. Hamilton said.

She said women should be aware of a host of things pertaining to their breasts. Breast size, redness, pain and fluids are things to pay attention to if there are noticeable changes.

Said another way, breast awareness means women must both understand and get to know how their body is reacting or changing over time.

“We love to think we’re symmetrical but one breast is usually a little bigger than the other. But it shouldn’t be significant [or] show redness on the outside, or have any pain,” Dr. Hamilton said.

“I think there’s a much bigger social picture from the standpoint of why. It’s not just Black women but maybe even Black men being diagnosed later for breast cancer as far as being able to go in and actually having access. There are a lot of different social determinants that might affect that,” she said.

You do not need to be a doctor to be capable of determining if something’s wrong with your body, she insists. Dr. Hamilton encourages women to be aware of their breasts and better understand how their body operates.

“If you are aware of what’s going on you might be able to recognize any differences,” she said.

Hamilton mentioned one patient in her late thirties who would be diagnosed with breast cancer after realizing something felt different with her body. And while many assume that breast cancer rarely impacts a woman at such a young age, Hamilton said women should not make assumptions based on age. In the case cited above, the woman’s routine breast awareness practices led her to consult her physician who conducted a biopsy that confirmed the presence of cancer.

“As long as women are taught from the standpoint of prevention and being aware, this is something that can be caught early,” Dr. Hamilton said.

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