Black women

Black women need to demand the attention and care of health care professionals. 

Though Black women get breast cancer at a slightly lower incidence rate than white women, Black women are 42 percent more like to die of breast cancer than white women. That is an astounding number and indicative of a variety of factors, many reflecting racial disparities.

Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among Black women, and an estimated 33,840 new cases are expected to be diagnosed in 2019. An estimated 6,540 deaths from breast cancer are expected to occur among black women in 2019.

Women do not need to die from breast cancer. It can’t be prevented but early stage breast cancer (meaning it has been localized within the breast) has a 99 percent five year survival rate. Note the inequity here. The overall five-year relative survival rate for breast cancer diagnosed is 81 percent for Black women versus 91 percent for white women. And, 54 percent of breast cancers in Black women are diagnosed at a local stage, compared to 64 percent in white women.

To add more fuel to the fire, Black women under age 35 get breast cancer at two times the rate of white women and die from breast cancer three times as often as white women.

So, what’s the problem? Why are Black women dying unnecessarily?

Higher death rates among Black women reflect the following.

Black women are not taking action. While 92 percent of Black women agree breast health is important, only 25 percent have recently discussed breast health with their family, friends, or colleagues. And, only 17 percent have taken steps to understand their risk for breast cancer.

Black women lack information about the severity of breast cancer, breast cancer symptoms and the need for screening. Oftentimes, Black women take care of others at the expense of their own health. Also, Black Women are often at a more advanced stage upon detection and Black women may not have access to health care or health insurance so may have lower frequency of and longer intervals between mammograms. Because they may not have health insurance, Black women may not follow up on abnormal mammogram results because they can’t afford the diagnostic testing.

Black women often don’t have access to the same prompt high quality treatment that white women have. They express that they are often feel disrespected by physicians and staff and Black women face logistical barriers to accessing care (such as transportation issues or not being able to miss work or arrange for child care).

An uncomfortable truth, Black women fear a cancer diagnosis. Maybe because Black women have the highest odds (two times more likely) of getting triple negative breast cancer, a kind of breast cancer that often is aggressive and comes back after treatment. It has the highest mortality rate and is the only breast cancer sub-type that does not have a therapy to prevent recurrence. Note that younger women and women diagnosed at later stages are more likely to get triple negative breast cancer.

We must stop the silence

Early detection saves lives. Black women of all ages need to check their breasts monthly. We need to know what our “normal” feels like so if there is some abnormality, immediate action can be taken.

Black women need to understand the severity of this health crisis. We need to be talking about our health, our family histories, and educating all of the women in our lives.

The ongoing conversations in this country around access to affordable health insurance must include acknowledgement and action regarding the inequities for Black women.

Black women need to demand the attention and care of health care professionals.

We at Sisters Network, Inc., a sisterhood of survivors, will continue to fight like girls and be the voice of Black women. We are committed to increasing local and national attention to the devasting impact that breast cancer has in the African-American community. We are working diligently to reduce the mortality rate of breast cancer among Black women by generating awareness, garnering attention, providing access to information and resources, and supporting research efforts in the ecosystem.

Sisters Network Inc. (SNI) founded in 1994 by Karen Eubanks Jackson, 25-year and three-time breast cancer survivor. Membership includes more than 20 survivor- run affiliate chapters nationwide. To learn more about Sisters Network Inc., visit www.sistersnetworkinc.org or call (866) 781-1808.

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