Five Black Women in the US Die Needlessly From Breast Cancer Each Day

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IllnessA study funded by the Avon Foundation for Women and conducted at the Sinai Urban Health Institute identified a clear disparity in breast cancer deaths among women. According to the study results, 1,722 needless deaths occur each year, or nearly five per day, in Black-American women who have breast cancer.

Health disparities are a serious problem in the United States, with factors such as poverty, education, racial segregation and availability of health care impacting mortality.

In the Avon-funded study titled “2012 Racial Disparity In Breast Cancer Mortality Study,” which was released March 21, researchers analyzed breast cancer deaths over a two-year period in comparison to societal risk factors such as race, poverty level, racial residential segregation, size of the population and inequality of income. Some of their key findings are:

• Of the 25 largest U.S. cities, 21 show a disparity between breast cancer deaths in white women and breast cancer deaths in Black women;
• New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, San Diego, Dallas, Jacksonville, Columbus, Ohio; Memphis, Tenn.; Seattle, Boston and Denver have greater disparities than the other cities in the study;
• Each week, at least one Black woman dies in Chicago and New York for no reason other than racial disparity;
• Memphis has a greater disparity than all other cities measured, while San Francisco has the smallest;
• Black women are 40 percent more likely to die of breast cancer than whites;
• A lower average family income and a high degree of racial segregation by neighborhood increased the risk that a woman with breast cancer, Black or white, was more likely to die of the disease.

“Our research shows societal factors, not genetics, are largely to blame for the racial disparity in breast cancer mortality nationwide,” the study’s lead author, Steve Whitman Ph.D., director of Sinai Urban Institute, said. “It’s incumbent on society to improve access to quality mammography and to ensure that breast cancer treatment is available to all women, including the under- and un-insured.”

Segregated areas are less likely to have healthcare facilities and it is more difficult for women from those areas to get to places that offer screening services or provide treatment for breast cancer.

Other factors may contribute to the breast cancer mortality rate among Black women. These include alcohol consumption, obesity, and the stage at which the disease is diagnosed. Early diagnosis increases survival odds. However, if appropriate health care is not available or difficult to access, cancer is more likely to be advanced when it is first discovered.

Moreover, although Black women are less likely than white women to get breast cancer, when they do they are more likely to get it at a younger age and to have a more severe form of cancer.

To prevent breast cancer deaths, the Sinai institute says, all women should be educated about the importance of breast health screening and should have access to early detection programs and screening; the quality of breast cancer screenings for all women should be improved; and women who need treatment should receive high-quality treatment in a timely manner must be monitored to ensure that they are complete the recommended therapy.