Barriers to getting breast exam treatment for younger, women of color

Published: January 21, 2022 4:49 PM EST
Updated: January 21, 2022 6:11 PM EST

Adult women of all ages are encouraged to do self-breast exams.

But the next steps can be confusing if someone under the age of 40 finds a lump. This is especially true in communities of color.

That is what happened to Dorianna Owens, a 36-year-old Black woman, who discovered a lump in her breast.

For years now, Owens has been giving herself breast exams so recently she knew something didn’t feel right.

“I found this lump and now I’m terrified because it runs in my family,” Owens said.

Worried it might be cancer, Owens wants a mammogram.

It sounds simple, but it is not.

Surgical breast oncologist Adam Riker acknowledges there are several barriers to care.

“There is definitely healthcare disparities out there that we recognized, and are trying to overcome it to help those that are most in need of these types of procedures and mammograms even going to see your primary care, doctor,” Riker said.

Whether it’s lack of money or insurance, location or just plain fear, it’s an issue affecting many women of color, including women that Owen knows.

“A lot of them, by the time they got in there and got help,” Owens said. “It was too late.”

Riker said African-American women are diagnosed, usually more commonly, with a later stage of breast cancer.

“Their overall outcome is actually poor, their overall survival is poor stage per stage,” Riker said.

Owens’ age is also working against her.

Owens needs a referral to get a mammogram because she’s under the age of 40.

She hasn’t been able to get in with her primary care doctor to get a referral to find out if she has breast cancer.

“I guess it wasn’t emergency or necessity so they kept pushing me off,” Owens said. “You’re too young. We can give you a couple of months, we’ve got other things going on the pandemic, you know. And now here we are January and it’s the size of a mandarin orange.”

Owens believes it’s now tripled in size.

“It’s swollen, the skin on it is rough,” Owens said. “It has a texture that my breast has never had before.”

And, Owens is in pain.

The soonest appointment she can get into is weeks away.

” So I’m here with you because I need somebody to do something,” Owens said.

Riker said breast exams are extremely valuable. Many of his patients were first to notice a lump in their breast.

Here is a guide for a how-to administer a breast exam.