News from the National Cancer Institute’s SEER program (Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Report) shows that the incidence of breast cancer in black women is now equal to that of white women. Although this may seem trivial at first glance, this dramatic increase poses a higher mortality rate for the African American race according to the New York Times. Overall, a black woman is 42 percent more likely to die from the disease than a white woman. With this same percentage of mortality and a higher incidence of breast cancer occurrence, more black women are at risk.
But why the dramatic increase? SEER and expert epidemiologists like Carol E. DeSantos of the American Cancer Society report that several factors could be contributing to this increase. The first factor investigated was the type of breast cancer factors common to each race. Black women are more likely to develop a less-treatable form of breast cancer called triple negative cancer while they trail behind white women in the diagnosis of the more-treatable form of breast cancer called estrogen-receptor positive disease. Obesity also plays a part in the presence of these estrogen-receptor positive breast cancer occurrences. Although more white women tend to have this diagnosis when compared to black women, black women have a much higher obesity rate (58% in 2012 compared to 33% in white women), which leads to an overall increase in cancerous tumors.
However, a societal shift may also lead to a later diagnosis of breast cancer, leading to more fatalities. There is a distinct schism in the amount of uninsured and insured within the African American community that delays the detection of breast cancer. According to Dr. Steven Whitman, director of the Sinai Urban Health Institute in Chicago, although drastic advances in healthcare became widely available in the early 1990’s, white women gained access to those advances while black women did not. Economic disparities and even mistrust of the medical establishment contribute to the complicated web of racial pressures that affect access to quality care.
Ultimately, our health systems seems to have a racial divide that creates disparities in quality of care and promotes the increase of diseases and conditions that may be treatable otherwise. In this case, knowledge is power and getting a regular mammogram and health physicals with subsequent, consistent follow-up appointments with appropriate treatment could be the key to turn this figure around. Also, the New York Times article points out the lack of research studies involving African-American women with breast cancer adds additional fuel to the fire. Without their involvement and enrollment in these studies, it not only puts the researchers at a disadvantage to see if the proposed drugs actually work across racial boundaries but also puts less of an emphasis for proactive treatment and innovations within the community. The more people feel like they are contributing to research, the more involved and informed people will get.
PPA is currently recruiting patients who have been diagnosed with all types of cancer to participate in research. Also, East Tennessee’s chapter of the Cancer Society of America is located right here in Johnson City. Support research and support those in need.