Today we welcome Rhonda M. Smith, founder of Breast Cancer Partner. Breast Cancer Partner helps breast cancer patients to recover by introducing them to a holistic approach to their treatment. The holistic approach includes strategies for nutrition, exercise, and stress relief. This is in addition to following the traditional medical treatments for breast cancer. Here, Rhonda shares her thoughts about racial disparities regarding breast cancer. She explains how crucial it is for African American women like herself to be talking about breast cancer.
Racial Disparity in Survival Rates
One in nine African American women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime. That’s not drastically different than the one in eight for Caucasian women. What is drastically different is the survival rate of African American women after diagnosis. On average, African American women are 41% less likely to survive breast cancer. In some cities like Memphis, Dallas, and Los Angeles, that number is a startling 74%, 62%, and 55%, respectively.
Why does this “disparity” exist? Well, there’s no single answer to that question. A multitude of reasons contributes to the significant difference in breast cancer outcomes for African American women. Some are related to barriers that exist within the healthcare system, at the community level, and at the individual level.
An article entitled “A perfect storm: How tumor biology, genomics, and health care delivery patterns collide to create a racial survival disparity in breast cancer and proposed interventions for change”, written by Bobby Daly MD, MBA, and Olufunmilayo I. Olopade MD, FACP spotlights the key factors that result in the disparity in survival rates and what we can do about it. You can click here to read a simplified version of their research study.
What We Can Do About the Racial Disparity
In continuing along the lines of keeping it simple, I’d like to focus on what we as African American women can do and control. We can make a difference in the disparity in survival rates and prevent our women from dying unnecessarily of breast cancer.
First and foremost, we need to know our family health history, especially as it relates to breast cancer. This means sharing this information with our loved ones. It means being more open about who has been affected by cancer in our family.
I’m astonished by the number of women I meet who tell me that they didn’t know that a family member had breast cancer. Their mom, grandmother, aunt, etc. didn’t reveal her history of breast cancer until they were diagnosed. I have also encountered many women who are diagnosed or going through treatment but refused to tell anyone. Even their immediate family. Not sure how they kept something like this a secret, but somehow they were successful in doing so.
We put our loved ones at great risk when we keep information like our family’s cancer history a secret. Knowing your family history and personal health history are important parts of understanding your risk of breast cancer. With this information, women (in partnership with their doctors) can make informed decisions about genetic counseling and whether genetic testing is right for them. This is especially important. Evidence shows that African-American women with a family history of breast or ovarian cancer are less likely to get referred for genetic counseling for BRCA testing than white women.
Talking About Breast Cancer When It Runs in Your Family
It is important to note that most women with breast cancer do not have a family history of the disease. Indeed, only 13 percent of women diagnosed have a first-degree female relative (mother, sister, or daughter) with breast cancer.
Women with one first-degree female relative with breast cancer have almost twice the risk of women with none. Further, women with more than one first-degree female relative with a history of breast cancer have a risk of about 3-4 times higher. Fortunately, there are options available for women at higher risk of breast cancer to help lower their risk. Having a conversation with your doctor is a good first step.
So, when it comes to breast cancer, this is why it is important to “speak up and talk about it.” We have the power to make a difference and save lives!