The two-decade-long divide in breast cancer survival rates among African-American and Caucasian women hasn’t exactly budged. According to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, this long difference is driven more by how sick women are when they come in for a diagnosis rather than the differences in how they’re treated.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that African-American women are 40 percent more likely to die of breast cancer than Caucasian women.
Dr. Anita Johnson, Medical Director of Breast Surgical Oncology at Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA), feels something must be done about this. She talked to Brandi Walker about this long standing disparity amongst black and white women, what factors play a part in the low black women survival rate and the importance for breast health educational tools.
- 1. What do you feel is necessary for better breast health intervention among African-American women? Disparities in breast cancer treatment stem from several different reasons. One thing that has proven to be extremely beneficial for all women, especially in the African-American community, is screening mammography. Screening mammography helps us to detect breast cancer at a much earlier stage.
- 2. Why do you feel the astonishing differences in survival rates among black and white women has lasted so long? The difference in survival rates among black and white women exists for multiple reasons, like variances in socioeconomic status, as well as access to appropriate health care. In my experience at (CTCA) and based on proven research, African-American women often present with breast cancer at a more advanced stage and typically at a much younger age. For example, a significant proportion of African-American women present with triple negative or basal-like breast cancer which unfortunately, has a poorer prognosis because it’s more aggressive. Triple negative or basal-like breast cancer is usually treated with surgery, radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy. Other reasons for the difference in survival rates may include lack of follow-up after getting abnormal test results, the belief that mammograms aren’t needed, not having insurance, and general distrust of the health care system.
- 3. Why don’t you blame the differences in how black and white women are treated for this two-decade-long divide? Blaming does not provide the solutions that are desperately needed in regards to racial disparities and breast cancer. I strongly feel that more education and additional health care resources are needed in both rural and metropolitan areas. When you look at the numbers to date in nearly all types of cancer diagnoses, African-Americans have a higher mortality rate when compared to Caucasians. The same is true for the presentation of women with late-stage breast cancer.
- 4. What other factors play a part in the low survival rate amongst black women? A key factor that plays a major part in the low survival rate amongst black women is late-stage presentation. This means that many black women are diagnosed after their breast cancer has progressed and is more severe, which is likely due to lack of follow-up after getting abnormal test results and the belief that mammograms aren’t needed to name a few reasons. Another factor is inadequate access to screening mammography. Based on my health care experience overall and talking with my patients, black women do not have appropriate access to screening mammography, which needs to change immediately.
- 5. Are there any new breast health educational tools for black women? There are numerous breast health educational tools for black women to turn to, including support groups like the Sisters Network Inc. and published data produced by the American Cancer Society and the Susan G. Komen Foundation. There are also several national African-American breast cancer networks available that are worth investigating.
For more information on Dr. Johnson, visit her page on the CTCA website http://www.cancercenter.com.