Submitted by Valerie Rochester, Black Women’s Health Imperative
By now, many of us already know the statistics . . . that despite the federal and private investments in breast cancer screening, treatment and research, Black women continue to experience breast cancer at younger ages and in more advanced and deadlier forms. From screening to timely diagnosis and entry into treatment, Black women receive inequitable care and our overall survival rates have increased at a much slower pace.
Yet, while we know the facts, we still do not know why breast cancer affects Black women differently. Black women are more likely to experience delays in testing following abnormal screening results, inadequate communication regarding treatment options and side effects, lower rates of referrals for targeted therapy, reduced monitoring following treatment, and inadequate survivorship care. The issues of having access to new and targeted treatment options for Black women with breast cancer cannot be underestimated.
Reframing is Needed to Represent Black Women’s Struggles and Triumphs
The successful reframing of breast cancer as not simply a personal battle or illness, but as a public health and societal problem, cannot also not be underestimated. Poverty, lack of access to quality care and treatment and late-stage diagnosis may partly explain the disparities we are seeing in breast cancer survival rates among Black women.
The daily struggle of many Black women to survive, and the strength and resilience they exhibit as they continue to support their families and communities, stands in stark contrast to the prevailing image often presented in ads for breast cancer awareness and fundraising events featuring primarily white women triumphing over breast cancer.
Throughout the year, but especially during the month of October, breast cancer awareness month news stories about breast cancer run continuously; communities host public forums and fundraising walks; and promising research is shared with both lay and professional audiences at national conferences. From yogurt lids, to football jerseys, to car ads, calls to support breast cancer research are everywhere.
Yet, how can a movement be so successful, and research efforts leave a significant swath of women behind? An October 2015 study published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, found of more than 100,000 women diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010 and 2011, African American and Hispanic women were more likely to be diagnosed at later stages. Researchers also found a consistent pattern of late diagnosis and not receiving recommended treatment for African American women across all breast cancer subtypes. Black and Hispanic patients were up to 40 percent more likely to receive treatment not in line with breast cancer guidelines.
Enter the Black Women’s Health Imperative
At the Black Women’s Health Imperative, achieving health equity is at the heart of our work and we believe that Black women’s health matters—not just to our families, friends and communities, but to the core economic base of this country. We advance, promote and support efforts nationally and locally to examine and address the disparities that exist in early diagnosis and timely treatment. We are active and vocal supporters of enhanced access to 3D technology, particularly for Black women who tend to have a larger volume of dense breast tissue, so their cancerous tumors can potentially be detected earlier. Detection of invasive cancers increases by up to 40 percent with 3D mammography since it produces better images of the breast, and more importantly, it offers better imaging of dense breast tissue that often hides tumors in 2D mammography.
Through our work, we support and educate Black women on the importance of early detection and timely diagnosis, including routine breast exams and mammograms; educating legislators and other decision makers about screening guidelines that are responsive to the health and needs of Black women—particularly for younger Black women who are increasingly receiving breast cancer diagnoses. We are committed to paving the way forward in eliminating breast cancer inequities by seeking improved screening and assessment options, better standards for treatment and care, and targeted research funding.