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Self-Check: 5 Breast Lumps That Aren't Cancer

On Wednesday and every other day in October...we wear pink.

Women's Health

Many things come to mind when I think of October. Mean Girls (October 3rd, anyone?), Halloween, and most of all Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I'd be remiss if I didn't take this opportunity to say, "In October, we wear pink." For the cause, of course. This is a cause near and dear to our hearts as women but also because we all know and love someone who has been impacted by breast cancer. Not only is the month dedicated to them but it's also dedicated to creating awareness and funding around preventative measures.

Why Breast Self-Exams Are Important

Unfortunately, for Black women, we're already overlooked in the healthcare system which likely has a lot to do with why the mortality rate associated with breast cancer is higher for us despite being diagnosed at similar rates as our white counterparts. In addition to having a trusted physician on your side (ahem, one that looks like you), this means we have to take extra care and remember to do our regular lump checks outside of office visits. Furthermore, thorough screening for breast cancer isn't offered as a recommendation for those under the age of 40. Thing is, "11 percent of all new cases in the United States are found in women under the age of 45," according to the CDC. So in this instance, knowledge is our friend!

And we know you know that a lump can mean breast cancer, but this time we want to spend time going over the other things that lumps may indicate—causes that may have nothing to do with breast cancer in the least bit. To get answers, I reached out to some doctors of color to see what other lumps we might come across while doing our at home checkups.

The Different Kinds Of Benign Breast Lumps

1. Cysts:

"Not all breast lumps are created equal. There can be many reasons why a woman may feel a lump in their breasts or see one on imaging, such as a mammogram or ultrasound. While we are always concerned that these may be cancerous, there can be benign reasons to have a lump. Cysts are another common cause and are fluid-filled round lesions within a 'sac' or lining. They can change in size on their own or can change with your menstruation. Lumps during your menstrual cycle in general are common as well, and are referred to as fibrocystic changes. This is one of the main reasons why it's important to regularly do self-breast exams so you are familiar with how your normal breast feels.

"Breast imaging such as mammograms, ultrasounds, or an MRI are likely to differentiate between these various lumps. In certain instances, your doctor may recommend a biopsy or fine-needle aspiration to obtain a definitive diagnosis or may discuss removal of the mass completely."

Smita R. Ramanadham, M.D., F.A.C.S.

2. Fat Necrosis:

"Fat necrosis is benign breast lump that usually happens after trauma to the breast, surgery or injection of foreign material. In this case, the part of the fat in the breast dies and becomes calcified and hard and feels like a tumor. These are noncancerous and usually need surgery to rule out if they are painful or to differentiate from cancer."

Gajendra Singh

3. Breast Abscess:

"An infection, categorized by pus in the breast tissue. Associated with pain and sometimes a fever, it's usually a complication of an infection of the skin. There's usually redness on the breast and antibiotics may fail. Your physician may feel a lump that is tender. It is easily diagnosed by ultrasound. And it's treatable."

Lamia Kadir, MD

4. Intraductal Papilloma:

"Intraductal papilloma is a small growth within the milk ducts in a female breast. These may be associated with bloody nipple drainage and can sometimes result in a mass or lump. A blocked milk duct is another cause of a bump or mass to form in the female breast. Typically, this occurs during breastfeeding."

Smita R. Ramanadham, M.D., F.A.C.S.

5. Fibroadenomas:

"Generally, about 20% of breast lumps are cancer. Fibroadenomas - these are the most common benign lumps. If you push on them, they are solid, round, rubbery lumps that move freely. They're usually painless. Women between 20 and 30 get them most often. They're also more common in African-American women. Fibroadenomas can be surgically removed. There are other types of non-cancerous breast conditions as well."

Dr. Ricardo Castrellón

Every doctor presented here stressed the significance of making sure we're checking for lumps on the regular, so I want to echo their sentiments here as well. According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, the best time to examine your breasts is "7-10 days after their menstrual period starts which is also when their breasts are the least tender and lumpy."

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ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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