HOUSTON – In the U.S., a black woman with breast cancer is 40% more likely to die than a white woman.
In Houston, the disparities in mortality are even higher, according to research conducted by Susan G. Komen.
Now, the organization is taking steps to put a stop to those disparities.
Why the difference?
- Black women often delay screening due to job restrictions
- The cost of treatment can deter many women
- They are often diagnosed with later stages of cancer
The solution, Komen said, is their initiative: Stand for H.E.R.
- Connects people to quality care through patient navigators who help patients navigate racism in health care and implicit bias, and know where to get care in their community
- Works with the American Society for Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Quality Oncology Initiative, to improve the quality of breast cancer treatment at specific health facilities in the community.
- Provides trustworthy information and emotional support through Komen’s Breast Care Helpline
- Provides financial support through Komen’s Financial Assistance Program
- Develops culturally competent education about family health history, its role in breast cancer risk, and the benefits of genetic counseling and testing for Black families in making health care decisions
Morgan Mitchell is a young black woman with no family history of breast cancer and was shocked when she was diagnosed at 34-years-old in the middle of the pandemic.
“I had a very aggressive type of cancer. Most younger women have aggressive types of breast cancer,” Mitchell explained.
According to Dr. Abenaa Brewster, Professor of Clinical Cancer Prevention at MD Anderson Cancer Center, fighting breast cancer has taken a front and center focus with medical professionals and groups like Komen, which should give patients optimism about the future. However, she still encourages patients to be their own advocates.
“In terms of where you get care, be an advocate for yourself in terms of the timeliness of your care. Be an advocate for yourself in terms of making sure that your questions are answered,” Dr. Brewster said.
When possible, she also encourages planning for cancer prevention more than treatment.
“Exercising 150 minutes per week, avoiding alcohol or limiting alcohol intake, avoiding sugary beverages and added sugars, and diet that’s filled with fruits and vegetables, breastfeeding for as long as you’re able,” Dr. Brewster said.
Mitchell is now cancer-free and wishes more young people would screen for breast cancer.
“We need to start screening younger, we need to do self-checks younger, we need to be aware at younger ages so that we can really tackle this issue,” she said. “All of this makes a difference and it really does make a difference when someone who looks like you is speaking to you.”
If you have a family history of breast cancer, Dr. Brewster said to ask about genetic testing. For everyone else, the recommendation to get screened is still 40-years-old. Dr. Brewster said to remember with self-checks, it will be obvious if something is abnormal, don’t be afraid that you won’t know what you’re looking for.