The American Cancer Society released some alarming information recently. Breast cancer kills black women at a 41 percent higher rate than it does other women. Black women are less likely than other women to get breast cancer, but it seems the disease is much more deadly in the black female population and there are numerous reasons why.
First, about 25% of black women in the United States live at or under the poverty line, and this can reduce their access to good health care. The director of breast imaging at McLaren Greater Lansing Breast Care Center, Dr. Lewis Jones, says poverty is definitely a factor that plays into the increased mortality rate for black women with breast cancer. “Particularly if you’re poor (and) lack insurance, you don’t really understand what’s going on, you’re treated like a second-class citizen in some of these places,” he says, “So there are a lot of issues that affect minorities, not only blacks, but Hispanics, Arabs, etc.”
Dr. Jones also says that black women have a tendency to seek out breast treatment at a later stage than their counterparts. “One of the reasons is that black women, in general, tend to present late to the doctors when they have problems with their breasts. A lot of them feel, that well, it will probably go away,” he says. Black women are also more often the heads of their households, and may put off treatment in order to keep everything running smoothly rather than take time off to go to the doctor.
This creates a situation in which black women are getting to the doctor after their cancer has already spread to other regions of the body, such as the lymph nodes. When it comes to many types of cancer, including breast cancer, early detection is crucial for a good prognosis and can greatly influence survival rate.
Once the cancer has spread beyond its initial location, it becomes much more difficult to fight and also requires more aggressive treatments, which in themselves can lead to fatal side effects in some cases. Chemotherapy, for example, can cause heart attacks in some women and congestive heart failure in others. More chemotherapy sessions are usually necessary when the cancer has spread, which also leads to an increased risk of side effects.
Black women also tend to develop breast cancer at an earlier age than white women, with white women presenting with the disease at an average age of 62 while black women present at an average age five years sooner, at age 57.
Besides the dread disease killing more black women, it’s also on the rise among this population in the United States. Black women also have a worse prognosis than white women in every stage of the disease, including stage one.
It is vitally important that all women begin having mammograms every year at age 40, and earlier for those who have a family history of the disease, says the American Cancer Society. Early detection improves survival rates. Breast cancer kills black women at 41 percent higher rate than other women, but by raising awareness and spreading the word about the importance of early detection, many lives can be saved.
By: Rebecca Savastio