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hand holding breast cancer ribbon(BlackDoctor.org) — Fewer women are dying from breast cancer, largely because of advances in screening and treatment. Poorer women, however, are seeing a slower and later decline in their risk of dying from breast cancer, in part because they don’t have as much access to these life-saving advances.

In 2008, 51.4% of poor women aged 40 and older had a screening mammogram in the past two years. By contrast, 72.8% of wealthier women had a mammogram in the past two years.

These are some of the findings from the American Cancer Society’s Breast Cancer Facts & Figures 2011-2012 report. It appears in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians in time for National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which takes place every October.

In 2011, an estimated 230,480 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer, according to the new report. About 39,520 women will die from the disease in 2011. Beside skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer seen among American women.

In the early 1990s and before, women who lived in affluent areas were most likely to die from breast cancer. Since then, these rates have been higher among women in poorer areas, where the decline in death rates began later and was slower. Overall, breast cancer death rates decreased 2.2% per year from 1990 to 2007.

Mammograms Still Save Lives

It’s an issue of access to care and education, says researcher Carol DeSantis, MPH. She is an epidemiologist at the American Cancer Society (ACS) in Atlanta. “Poor women are less likely to get screening,” she says.

The ACS recommends that women get yearly mammograms beginning at age 40. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force set off a maelstrom of controversy when it stated that women could get mammograms every two years from age 50 to 74. The decision to start getting mammograms before age 50, the task force says, should be an individual one based on benefits vs. harms. Besides annual mammograms starting at age 40, the ACS also calls for a yearly breast exam by a doctor. Some women may also choose to do monthly breast self-exams.

“The most important thing that all women can do is get an annual screening mammogram to detect breast cancer in its earliest stage, when it is most treatable,” DeSantis says. “It does save lives, and it is worthwhile for women beginning at age 40.”

There are some risks associated with mammograms, though, including the fact that they could lead to unnecessary and anxiety-provoking testing.

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