Angela Bivins was an Atlanta-based teacher and mother of two when she got the news that changed her life forever.
"I'd felt some tenderness near my left underarm," she remembers. "I asked my sister, who does mammograms for a living [a radiology technician], to do a check, and she told me to quickly make an appointment. She thought it was possibly a cyst."
Cancer didn't catch Christina Applegate unprepared. Because her mother had battled both breast cancer and ovarian cancer, Applegate had been going for regular mammograms since the age of 30. "But when I turned 36, my doctor said that my breasts were just too dense for mammography alone, and he referred me for screening MRIs at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center," she recalls.
Just a few months before she learned she herself had breast cancer, the actor got a shocking insight into the struggles faced...
"I was devastated," she says. "I didn't feel like I'd done all I was supposed to do. And as a single mother, I didn't want my children to have to consider the possibility of me not being around. But you have to shift gears quickly and fight for your life. Because cancer doesn't consider your race, your financial status, your age, or anything else."
Who Gets It?
As a 44-year-old African-American woman, Bivins wasn’t a typical breast cancer patient. But she wasn't atypical, either. According to the American Cancer Society, white women are slightly more likely to get the disease than black women. But it’s more common in black women under age 45 than in white women. Other non-white women, like Asians, Hispanics, and Native Americans, have a lower risk of getting this type of cancer.
Many people who get the disease have none of the risk factors.
Of those factors, age is the strongest, after gender. That means you have a greater chance of getting breast cancer as you get older. At age 30, your chances of are 1 in 227. By age 70, they’re 1 in 26, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Women are 100 times more likely get the disease than men because they have much higher levels of estrogen and progesterone, which are thought to trigger breast cancer cells.
Here are some other things that affect your chances of getting it:
Genes: About 5% to 10% of breast cancers in America are caused by gene mutations like the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. If you have either of these, your risk of getting it in your lifetime is likely between 45% and 65%. Bivins was tested for the BRCA genes because her mother is a cancer survivor. Her results said she didn't have the genes.