All women face the risk of breast cancer. But with early detection and diagnosis, the chance of beating breast cancer is greater than 90 percent. For Black women especially, early detection and diagnosis are critical.
Although breast cancer occurs at similar rates in Black women and white women, Black women are 42 percent more likely to die from the disease, says surgical oncologist Lisa Newman, M.D. Moreover, the death rate from breast cancer among young Black women is double that for young white women. “Within the United States, we see differences in the incidence and the death rates from breast cancer for different population subsets,” Dr. Newman says. “In particular, we see notably higher breast cancer mortality rates in African-American women compared to white American women.”
Dr. Newman cites many explanations for these disparities. “Socioeconomics is a huge issue, with poverty rates and lack of insurance being higher in the African-American community compared to others,” she begins.
In addition to having less adequate health insurance than white women, Black women have less access to the healthcare system, which affects their ability to rely on regular screening, finish treatment, and attain follow-up care. “This definitely results in delays in breast cancer diagnosis, and often in inadequate treatment,” Dr. Newman says.
Because of inadequate health insurance and limited access to healthcare facilities, Black women--compared to white women--often wait for long periods in between screenings and cannot follow-up on concerning results immediately. As a result, they are more likely to receive breast cancer diagnoses at later stages of the disease, Dr. Newman explains. This increases the likelihood for treatment delays--sometimes two or more months after their initial diagnosis--when options are limited, more expensive, and their prognoses are poor. “All of this certainly accounts for some degree of the disproportionate death rates among Black women breast cancer patients,” Dr. Newman says.
Biological risk factors for breast cancer, including diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and being less likely than white women to breastfeed after childbirth, are also greater among Black women. Additionally, they are more likely to have more aggressive types of breast cancer--and to be diagnosed at younger ages than white women, Dr. Newman adds.
Because early detection and diagnosis increase all women’s chances of surviving breast cancer, you should have a yearly mammogram beginning at age 40, or sooner if you have a family history of the disease. You also should be aware of dangerous signs of breast cancer, such as:
If any of these signs develop, seek medical attention promptly. “These signs can have benign harmless causes, but they need to be checked out,” Dr. Newman says. “Early detection is the most effective way of surviving breast cancer.”
Even as the pandemic continues, WCM has restored normal cancer screening and breast cancer care while keeping patients safe. All of our staff wear proper PPE and practice social distancing. And, all patients must wear face masks.