Well Being: Black Women Are 40% More Likely To Die From Breast Cancer

Breast cancer charity race: Women in pinkWow. This is a sobering statistic but a phenomenon I’m all too familiar with. In the health care industry there is something known as health care disparity. Simply put this means that people of different races, gender, socio-economics, etc. receive a different standard of health care than other groups. This is an example of such a disparity and unfortunately the gap is widening.

The Sinai Urban Health Institute partnered with the Avon Foundation for Women in 2013 to conduct an analysis of breast cancer mortality in the 50 largest US cities. Breast cancer survival rates have come a long way as scientists learn more about cancer, preventive measures are taken such as self-exams, and alternative therapies are explored. The study reveals that 20 years ago Black and White women experienced comparable mortality rates.   Around the early 1990’s a separation in the two groups begins to emerge as the rate for While women began to decrease significantly, while Black women saw only a small drop in mortality rates.

About 232,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer and 39,000 will die from it. The study took a look at the incidence of breast cancer for Black and White women and found that White women are more likely to be diagnosed while Black women are more likely to die from breast cancer. Again, this is looking at the largest cities in the United States where health care is much more accessible. The researchers site that there doesn’t appear to be a genetic explanation for the divergence of breast cancer mortality rates. They took a look at previous papers that pointed to genetic differences but found it didn’t support their results. If Black and White women started with a similar rate of mortality, what happened in the 1990’s that had a greater impact for White women?

It’s likely reasons we’re already familiar with, money. Health care often comes down to who can afford it. In the 199o’s there was a shift toward screening as the technology advanced. Also physicians drove home the importance of self-exams for early detection. However those resources and messages may not have reached Black women at the same rate as White women. Black women, as an average in the 1990’s, were disproportionately under- or uninsured and therefore less likely to be offered a screening by a physician if they even saw one. This has to do with what some call the “amenability index”. Simply stated diseases that benefit from advancements in science will see improvement in the demographic that can afford them. A non-amenable disease, such as pancreatic cancer because it’s virtually incurable, has very little or no health disparities.

The only way to combat this statistic is for preventive screenings to be made available to all. If in fact there is no genetic explanation for the gap, it means that it comes down to money. The Affordable Care Act (aka Obama Care) has included such preventive care as a standard. Black women will hopefully have the ability to visit physicians who will recommend screenings and education on self-screening under the new health care laws. As we see with majorly preventable chronic diseases such as peripheral arterial disease or type II diabetes the health of a nation affects the wealth of a nation. It costs tax payers way more to care for the ill than it does to pay for prevention.

As you know the reason the New Black Chick was started was to address and reverse the negative trends impacting Black women. This is a trend we can begin reversing today by demanding better care and getting insurance under the Affordable Care Act. If you have insurance and a regular physician, and they aren’t speaking to you about preventive breast care start pushing them. Breast cancer is being seen in women as young as 25.

Share this sobering statistic with your friends, comment below and give yourself an exam.




*Hunt BR, et al. Increasing Black:White disparities in breast cancer mortality in the 50 largest cities in the United States. Cancer Epidemiology (2013), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.canep.2013.09.009

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