Racism is a social factor that leads to disparities in health outcomes and economic disadvantages among Black Americans. Racism acts as a stressor and determiner of who receives resources in America, particularly health care. Because of this, Black people have very poor outcomes with many diseases. Breast cancer is one of the most dramatic. Black women are not as likely to have breast cancer but are more likely to die from the disease. The mortality rates have declined in some ethnic populations; however, the overall cancer rates among Blacks have continued to grow.
According to the Susan G. Komen Foundation, Black women in the U.S. have a 40% higher death rate than white women. The death rate for Black women is higher than all other ethinic groups. There are multiple factors that contribute to this higher rate. Some of those variables are differences in the structure of the tumor, late-stage diagnosis, lack of health insurance, body weight and incomplete treatment.
According to an article by Yedjou CG, Sims JN, Miele L, et al. “Health and Racial Disparity in Breast Cancer,” “There have been medical improvements in early detection, diagnosis and screening. Still many Black women are less likely to obtain adequate treatment compared with White women. There has been limited success for African Americans. We need to redouble our efforts. Including participating in clinical trials, early detection and spreading information about the effects of breast cancer on Black Women.”
Self-breast exams and screenings combine to play an important role in early detection.
Women are encouraged to perform self-breast exams on a monthly basis. There are three basic patterns: circle, up and down, and wedge. Check with your health care professional to see which one they recommend. Monthly self-breast exams allow you to become knowledgeable about the way your breasts look and feel. If you feel something abnormal, report it to your doctor immediately. Become your own advocate. Seek a second opinion if you feel the test or diagnosis is incorrect.
It’s critical to screen for breast cancer. The screens are mammography, clinical breast exams and breast MRI. When these screens are combined with follow-up tests and treatment (when required), it can reduce the chance of death.
There are several barriers to screening. To reduce these barriers, we need to increase access to screening and care, remove financial barriers, address cultural differences, educate about breast cancer risks and screening, and doctors and other health care providers must encourage women to get regular screenings. These barriers must be removed to address the disparities in survival rates.
Finally, each of us, women and men, must reach out to loved ones and ask them if they are doing self-breast exams and having regular screenings as well as participating in clinical trials.
In January 2016, I participated in a tissue donation that was sponsored by the Susan G. Komen Foundation and conducted at the IU Simon Cancer Center in Indianapolis. This involved a quick and relatively painless procedure where a small amount of my breast tissue was taken along with many other people and studied. Having Black people participate in studies like this is critical to diminish the health disparities. There also have been periodic follow-ups regarding my current health status. My hope is that this study has had a positive impact on the eradication of breast cancer.
Since that time, I have personally lost two dear sorority sisters, Dannee Neal and last week Joni L. Reese. Both of their deaths were heartbreaking. Joni’s passing was especially difficult because of how long we knew each other. I grieve her passing and pray for all those who have lost loved ones to this dreaded disease. This column is dedicated to everyone who has been touched by breast cancer. My prayers are with all of you. As the word says in James 2:17, “Faith without works is dead.” So we need to work to encourage our community and family members to conduct self-exams and obtain screenings. We can make a difference.
Nichelle M. Hayes is a native of Indianapolis. She is an information professional, a genealogist, civic leader and a lifelong learner.