Nearly five black women per day die needlessly from breast cancer because they don’t have information and access to proper care, according to a study released Wednesday.
The report said poverty and racial inequities, not genetics, are responsible for the higher death rate, even though more white women get the disease.
The study calls for a public commitment to making access to quality breast health care, from screening to treatment, available to all women, regardless of their ability to pay. The study was done by Sinai Urban Health Institute in Chicago and funded by the Avon Foundation, which supports breast cancer research and education along with other women’s causes. The research was published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology.
Doctors and researchers have long known about the disparity in mortality rates nationally. The study was the first to look at the statistics city by city.
Researchers reviewed statistics in the nation’s 25 largest cities and found that 21 show a racial disparity in the breast cancer mortality rates of black and white women. Memphis has the highest disparity of the cities; San Francisco had the smallest.
Combining each city’s disparity with its population, researchers estimated that 1,722 black women die unnecessarily from the disease each year.
Doctors and researchers generally agree that poor women who lack access to quality care are more vulnerable to dying from breast cancer. As The Washington Post reported in an article Wednesday, black women are generally diagnosed at later stages and tend to be more susceptible to aggressive types of breast cancer, and some researchers have questioned whether genetic factors are at play. Some advocates have argued that doctors are not as aggressive in screening and treating black women with breast cancer.
“Our research shows societal factors — not genetics — are largely to blame for the racial disparity in breast cancer mortality nationwide,” Steve Whitman, director of the Sinai institute and lead author of the Avon study, said in a statement. “When a woman believes genetics causes her disease, it breeds a sense of hopelessness and fear. Our study proves that black women can play an active role in reducing their risk of dying from breast cancer by getting screened and following through with treatment. “
Eleanor Hinton Hoyt, executive director of the Black Women’s Health Imperative, a Washington-based advocacy group, had a measured reaction to the study: “It is now time for researchers to go beyond calling for black women to play a more active role and call on clinicians and health-care providers to look at access to newer and more advanced technologies to detect tumors and offer more advanced therapies for proper care and treatment.”
While noting the value of the research, she said, “It certainly doesn’t give us what we need for uncovering, addressing and eliminating … early death outcomes for black women.” “We know that mammograms as they are offered today will not solve the problem, even with early detection — black women are still dying earlier.”