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Denise Roberts was about to turn 35 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, but she’d known she was sick for longer than that.

“I had insurance. I was educated. My husband is a doctor, and it took me almost three years before I could talk my doctor into getting me a mammogram because of the symptoms I was having,” Roberts said in a phone interview with CLUTCH.

Her doctors told her she was too young. They gave her Niacin for her hair loss. They told her she was exhausted because she was the mother of two. They told her everything but that what was robbing her of her youth, hair, and energy could be cancer.

And while Roberts would like to believe this was an isolated incident, 20 years and a modified mastectomy later, Roberts says it’s still happening – young black women getting breast cancer and everyone –  from the patients themselves to the doctors are missing the signs.

Founder of the Denise Roberts Breast Cancer Foundation, Roberts’ mission is to spread awareness in the group most neglected during October’s Breast Cancer Awareness walks and fund-raisers – young, African-American women.

Roberts says doctors and patients are missing the signs because they still see breast cancer as an older woman’s disease. Of the quarter-million of women who get the disease, 11,000 of these women are under 40. And black women under 40 are the group most likely to die from the disease, but not because of any genetic factors, but because they are the least likely to be screened, seek treatment early, or be properly diagnosed by their doctors.

“We need to stop talking about age and start talking about prevention,” Roberts said.

But prevention can be hard to come by. Many minority women either have no insurance or are under-insured. And even those who do have doctors run into other hurdles – younger and younger doctors who focus more on treating symptoms than preventative measures that keep you out of the hospital completely.

Roberts blames the influence of money and the insurance industry for the emphasis on costly treatments over much cheaper preventive measures.

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