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Health Conditions Women of Color Need to Know About

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If you are a woman of color, there are certain health conditions for which you have a higher risk. This chart describes the conditions, the risk differences for women like you compared with white women, and steps you can take to minimize your risk.

Condition: Breast cancer

Increased Risk: African-American women are 1.5 to 2.2 times more likely to die from breast cancer than white women, while Hispanic women are 20 percent more likely to die from the disease as other women diagnosed at the same age and stage.

Steps to Reduce Your Risk: Get regular mammograms and follow-up care. The American Cancer Society recommends women have an annual mammogram beginning at age 40.

Visit your health care practitioner at least once a year for a clinical breast exam.

See your health care practitioner as soon as you notice any changes in your breasts. One study found that Hispanic women wait longer to receive care for breast cancer, making their disease harder to treat.

Condition: Diabetes

Increased Risk: African-American women are 100 percent more likely to develop diabetes than white women, while the rate of developing diabetes is two to four times higher among Hispanic-American, American Indian and Asian/Pacific Islander women.

Rates of blood sugar control are significantly lower and average hemoglobin A1C levels significantly higher for blacks and Hispanics than for whites with diabetes.

Blacks, American Indians and Hispanics have higher death rates from diabetes. Blacks also have higher rates of serious complications from diabetes, including higher rates of kidney failure and leg amputation due to diabetes.

Steps to Reduce Your Risk: Lose weight, increase your daily physical activity level, change your diet and see your health care professional at least every three months for regular testing and evaluation. All have been shown to prevent diabetes in high-risk women.

Test your blood sugar throughout the day and adjust your diet, exercise and medication accordingly. Studies find such monitoring can improve blood glucose control, which can, in turn, reduce the risk of complications such as cardiovascular and renal disease, blindness and neuropathy.

Make sure you receive all recommended medications and testing for people with diabetes. These include a statin and a daily low-dose aspirin (although this recommendation is being questioned as it relates to women), as well as regular testing and treatment for high blood pressure, cholesterol levels and eye and foot examinations, all of which are often less likely to be provided to people of color.

Condition: High blood pressure

Increased Risk: African-Americans and Hispanics have significantly higher blood pressure and worse blood pressure control than whites. In addition, American Indian/ Alaska Natives were 22 percent more likely than whites to have been told they had hypertension.

Steps to Reduce Your Risk: Cut out as many processed foods as possible (think canned soups and vegetables, frozen dinners, packaged rice and ready-to-eat meals). These foods are filled with sodium, which increases blood pressure. Limiting sodium could reduce systolic blood pressure 2 to 8 mm Hg. Instead, add in fresh fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains. You can also add frozen vegetables — plain with no sauces!

Limit alcohol. One drink or less a day for women can reduce systolic blood pressure 2 to 4 mm Hg.

Follow the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet. This eating program is high in fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy, and low in saturated and total fat. Studies find it can reduce systolic blood pressure 8 to 14 mm Hg. View the DASH diet at www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/ public/heart/hbp/dash/dash_brief.pdf.

Talk to your health care professional about the best medication for you, not for hypertension overall. There is evidence that certain classes of antihypertensives (calcium channel blockers and diuretics) work better in African-Americans than other classes, and that they respond better to an ACE inhibitor in combination with a diuretic than to an ACE inhibitor alone.

Condition: Colorectal cancer

Increased Risk: African-Americans are more likely to have their colorectal cancer diagnosed at a later stage than whites and to die of colorectal cancer.

Steps to Reduce Your Risk: Beginning at age 50 (earlier if you have a family history of colorectal cancer), get regular screenings for colorectal cancer. Blacks are less likely than whites to receive such screenings.


American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts & Figures for Hispanics/Latinos. 2006. www.cancer.org

Park M. Research shows Hispanic women get breast cancer treatment late. CNN.com. 2009. www.cnn.com.

Lipton RB, Liao Y, Cao G, et al. Determinants of incident non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus among blacks and whites in a national sample. The NHANES I Epidemiologic Follow-up Study. Am J Epidemiol. 1993;138(10):826-839.

American Diabetes Association. Total Prevalence of Diabetes & Pre-diabetes. www.diabetes.org

Diabetes Prevention Program Research Group. Reduction in the Incidence of Type 2 Diabetes with Lifestyle Intervention or Metformin. N Engl J Med. 2002;346(6):393-403.

Trinacty CM, Adams AS, Soumerai SB, et al. Racial differences in long-term self-monitoring practice among newly drug-treated diabetes patients in an HMO. J Gen Intern Med. 2007;22(11):1506-1513.

Peek ME, Cargill A, Huang ES. Diabetes health disparities: a systematic review of health care interventions. Med Care Res Rev. 2007;64(5 Suppl):101S-156S.

McWilliams JM, Meara E, Zaslavsky AM, et al. Differences in control of cardiovascular disease and diabetes by race, ethnicity, and education: U.S. trends from 1999 to 2006 and effects of medicare coverage. Ann Intern Med. 2009;150(8):505-515.

Heron M, Hoyert DL, Murphy SL. Deaths: Final Data for 2006. National Vital Statistics Reports. CDC. April 2009.

American Heart Association. American Indians/ Alaska Natives and Cardiovascular Diseases—Statistics. 2009. www.heart.org.

Lenfant C, Chobanian AV, Jones DW, et al. Seventh Report of the Joint National Committee on the Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Pressure (JNC 7): Resetting the Hypertension Sails. Hypertension. 2003;41(6):1178-1179.

Ferdinand KC, Armani AM. The Management of Hypertension in African Americans. Critical Pathways in Cardiology. 2007;6(2):67-71 10.1097/HPC.1090b1013e318053da318059.

Douglas JG, Bakris GL, Epstein M, et al. Management of High Blood Pressure in African Americans: Consensus Statement of the Hypertension in African Americans Working Group of the International Society on Hypertension in Blacks. Arch Intern Med. 2003;163(5):525-541.

Sica D. Optimizing hypertension and vascular health: focus on ethnicity. Clin Cornerstone. 2004;6(4):28-38.

US Department of Health and Human Services. National Healthcare Disparities Report 2008.

© 2009 National Women's Health Resource Center, Inc. (NWHRC) All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from the NWHRC. 1-877-986-9472 (tollfree). On the Web at: www.healthywomen.org.

(from the National Women's Health Report: Health & Wellness for Women of Color)

Link to article: http://www.healthywomen.org/articles/conditions_nwhrc.html

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.


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