Reducing Breast Cancer Risks in African American Communities

The message to go for an annual breast cancer screening is one that needs to go to every woman in every community. 

That’s happening at Weill Cornell Medicine (WCM) with the leadership of Vivian Jolly Bea, MD, Assistant Professor of Surgery-Weill Cornell Medical College, Cornell University. 

Dr. Bea also serves as section chief of breast surgical oncology in the Department of Surgery for NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital Brooklyn Methodist Hospital. She has developed an outreach program in some of Brooklyn’s underserved areas via local churches, where Black women are educating fellow church members and communities about understanding the risk of breast cancer, and the importance of early detection and diagnosis. 

Partnerships in local community outreach

“We identified and paired up with certain churches and spoke with their ministers and pastors about the importance of breast health awareness, especially in the COVID era,” Dr. Bea says. “These leaders helped us find women in their churches who serve as ‘navigators’—they have been educated about breast health and awareness and, in turn, share their knowledge.”

The program has been a success, Dr. Bea says.

Paired with WCM’s decision to extend its screening hours so women can get screened after work, more women are being screened. And these often are African American women who face a greater risk of death from breast cancer than their white peers.

“We certainly see a large population of African American women who have triple-negative breast cancer, which portends a more aggressive tumor type,” Dr. Bea says. “We have to be cognizant and thoughtful about the ways that we treat all populations, especially in Brooklyn.”

Raising awareness within patient populations

Dr. Bea also points to some of the internal organizational awareness that WCM has made in serving all communities.

“We’ve been at the forefront and really embraced diversity and inclusion,” she says. “We have diverse representation within our divisions and departments, and have even held a continuing medical education session to educate providers so they have the tools they need to take care of all patients.”

Dr. Bea also acknowledges that WCM’s multidisciplinary breast cancer resources “really holds each other’s feet to the fire” to ensure that every patient receives top-notch care.

And despite the patient’s background, Dr. Bea implores all women to have their breasts checked and know how to maintain a healthy life.

“By any means and all means, get the mammogram done,” she adds. “And of course, we have to be secure, stable and healthy. I recommend meditation, healthy eating, drinking water, exercising, and really decompressing, because that will help determine our overall health, allows us to be here for our families and continue to be the backbone of this nation.”

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