Breast Cancer Shouldn’t Be a Death Sentence:

Racial Disparities and Racism Contribute to a Higher Death Rate in Black Women Diagnosed with Breast Cancer

Breast cancer shouldn’t be a death sentence, but for many Black women it is.

A report released by the American Cancer Society in late January revealed that African American women are 41 percent more likely to die from breast cancer than their white counterparts and twice as likely to die if they are over 50.

And, though a recent study by a team of researchers at Sanford Burnham Presbys Medical Discovery Institute in La Jolla, California, suggests that biology—in particular molecular-level differences—may be partially to blame, racial disparities and racism remain the primary culprits prompting inequities in early breast cancer screening and treatment that directly contribute to late-stage diagnoses and higher mortality rates.

“Despite medical improvements in early detection, diagnosis and screening, many Black women are less likely to obtain adequate treatment compared with White women,” another recent study into health and racial disparities in breast cancer suggested.

This unacceptable reality, according to the Susan G. Komen Foundation and the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, among others, is related to racial disparities in health insurance and access to health care facilities, which affects screenings for early detection, treatment, and follow-up care.

“Beyond health coverage and access to care, discrimination and bias within the health care system and disparities in exposure to risk factors, due largely to underlying social and economic inequities, also drive cancer disparities,” Michelle Tong, Latoya Hill and Samantha Artiga recently suggested in a Kaiser Family Foundation report.

“I would always hear that the reason why Black women were dying at such a higher rate from breast cancer was social and biological differences and poverty and all these different rationales,” Chrysalis Initiative founder Jamil Rivers told NPR reporter Ina Jaffe in December 2021. “But then, as I started finding out more, I found that the biggest contributor was actually the racism.”

To address systemic racism and these persistent racial disparities and to reduce the death rate from cancer by at least half over the next 25 years, President Joe Biden recently announced the re-ignition of the Cancer Moonshot program.

The Cancer Moonshot program operates in orbit with other existing programs, such as the Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition, widely considered to be a model national program that facilitates patient navigators, who coordinate logistics surrounding medical care, including travel arrangements and insurance mediation, and non-profit advocacy organizations, such as the Chrysalis Initiative, the Tigerlily Foundation, and the Alliance House’s own Black Women Breast Cancer Awareness Committee.

The BWBCA committee is dedicated to addressing disparities and to providing resources, counseling, and education about how breast cancer affects Black women in Tennessee, a state that has a 60 percent mortality rate in Black women with breast cancer.

“I have been a supporter for those impacted by cancer for many years,” BWBCA committee member Tonia Mostella said. “After witnessing the struggle and experiencing the eventual loss of a loved one due to late-stage detection, I knew I had to do something to help others by increasing awareness, identifying resources and encouraging early detection.”

To do just that, the BWBCA committee recently launched a new initiative to raise awareness about the in-state mortality rate, Alliance House executive director De’Ossie Dingus explained. “We are now engaging in a fundraising effort to issue 1,000 special license plates by June 2022 to help raise awareness about these disparities and change attitudes around testing for Black women in this state.”

The license plates symbolize the need for education to raise awareness that will contribute to the survival of Black women and victory over breast cancer and racism. Breast cancer shouldn’t be a death sentence, but raising awareness of continued racial disparities in screening, treatment and follow-up care and changing attitudes starts with you. Click here to register for a Breast Cancer license plate.

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