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- What you need to know about Black women and breast cancer
What you need to know about Black women and breast cancer
Black women are diagnosed with breast cancer at earlier ages and more advanced stages and are more likely to die from the disease. Here’s what needs to be done to change this.
As you stroll the aisles of your favorite pharmacy or big box store, you’re bound to see reminders that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. But what the pink products on those shelves don’t tell you is that in the United States young Black women are dying from breast cancer at alarming rates.
Even though Black women are diagnosed with breast cancer at similar or lower rates than white women, according to the American Cancer Society and the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, Black women have a 41 percent higher death rate from breast cancer. For Black women under 50, the numbers are even more harrowing. The mortality rate among young Black women, who have a higher incidence of aggressive cancers, is double that of young white women.
Black women are more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer at younger ages and at more advanced stages. So even though there has been an overall 43 percent decline in breast cancer deaths over the last 30 years, there is still a mortality gap between Black women and white women.
This is an issue that matters to me always – not just in October. I have several loved ones who have been affected by this disease.
By now, you all know how important self-care and body care are to me. Self-care encompasses far more than what products to use - a critical part of self-care is staying proactive with your self exams, mammograms, and doctor's appointments. No one knows you better than you, so we need to regularly monitor our bodies for changes.
Why are Black women more likely to die from breast cancer?
Like me, you’re probably wondering, why this is happening. As with all health disparities, the issue is complicated.
Black women are more likely to have diabetes, heart disease, and obesity, and are less likely to breastfeed after childbirth. All of these are risk factors for breast cancer. Also, Black women are less likely to have adequate health insurance or access to healthcare facilities. This can lead to a lack of proper screenings and follow-up care or completion of treatment. According to the American Cancer Society, Black women have lower rates of surgery and chemotherapy to treat breast cancer.
And we all know that many Black women are stressed out! They’re carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders. And studies have shown a link between cancer and stress. Furthermore, Black women are often so busy taking care of family members and friends that they can’t take care of themselves. So, they can’t make time for check-ups, for exercise, or for healthy meals.
Biology plays a role, too. Black women tend to have dense breast tissue, which can make cancer harder to detect. Also, Black women have a higher incidence of more aggressive types of breast cancer such as triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) and inflammatory breast cancer.
How can we improve outcomes for Black women with breast cancer?
Knowing what’s causing these health disparities is only half the battle. Now we need to figure out what can be done about them.
The National Cancer Institute recommends the creation of statewide cancer screening programs that are accessible to underserved populations. We must make mammograms affordable and help Black women make it to diagnostic centers to get these important screenings.
To address the biological differences in breast cancer across racial and ethnic groups, we need research. But most studies and clinical trials are conducted in white women. Therefore, Black women’s participation in clinical trials is key. Quite frankly, many people of color don’t trust the medical community due to things such as the infamous Tuskegee Study and the story of Henrietta Lacks. Medical professionals must address these concerns and also consider ways to make research participation more practical for Black women. It is only through research that scientists and health care professionals can create personalized therapies and improve outcomes for Black women diagnosed with breast cancer.
Organizations Making a Difference
While there are certain breast cancer organizations that get attention every October, there are other lesser known groups working to address the mortality rate gap that young Black women face.
Tigerlily Foundation is a national breast cancer foundation that provides education, awareness, advocacy and support to young women ages 15 to 45 before, during and after breast cancer. The organization was founded by Maimah Karmo, who was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was only 32 years old. Tigerlily offers courses to teens and adults about breast cancer and cancer care, free fitness programs for cancer survivors, financial support for families in need and so much more. Tigerlily is also working to ensure more women of color affected by breast cancer are offered participation in clinical trials. Tigerlily even goes to Capitol Hill to advocate for legislation in support of breast cancer patients, survivors and their families.
For the Breast of Us is a community for women of color affected by breast cancer. It was founded by Jasmine Dionne Souers, who was diagnosed at 26, and Marissa Thomas, who was diagnosed at 35. Their mission is to help women live full and happy lives after breast cancer and even feel sexy after surviving the disease. This year For the Breast of Us is hosting its inaugural sneaker ball. This event, called the We Run This Sneaker Gala, will be held in Houston, Texas, and will raise money for grants to help young women of color with the financial costs of a breast cancer diagnosis.
TGIN Foundation was founded by Chris-Tia Donaldson, creator of the natural hair care line TGIN. This organization offers support to uninsured women undergoing treatment for breast cancer and highlights the importance of early detection for women under the age of 40. Donaldson, who was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 36, died in November of 2021 at the age of 42. Her family continues her work in this arena through the foundation, which has partnered with Lyft to provide affordable and reliable transportation to breast health appointments.
Instead of simply buying pink products that may or may not actually support breast cancer research, consider supporting one of these organizations or donating to your local breast cancer survivor center instead.
This month, Black women need more than pink. We need progress.