HOUSTON – In the United States, a black woman with breast cancer is 40% more likely to die than a white woman.
In Houston, the disparities in mortality are even greater, according to a study led by Susan G. Komen.
Now the organization is taking action to end these 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 advanced stages of cancer
The solution, said Komen, is their initiative: Stand for HER
Connects people to quality care through patient navigators who help patients manage racism in healthcare and implicit bias, and know where to seek 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 care facilities in the community.
Provides reliable information and emotional support through the Komen Breast Care Helpline
Provides financial support through the Komen Financial Aid 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 health care decision-making
Morgan Mitchell is a young black woman with no family history of breast cancer and was shocked when she was diagnosed at age 34 amid the pandemic.
“I had a very aggressive type of cancer. Most young women have aggressive types of breast cancer,” Mitchell explained.
According to Dr. Abenaa Brewster, professor of clinical cancer prevention at MD Anderson Cancer Center, the fight against breast cancer is top of mind for medical professionals and groups like Komen, which should give patients optimism about in the future. However, she always encourages patients to be their own advocates.
“As far as where you get care, be an advocate for yourself in terms of the timeliness of your care. Be an advocate for yourself by making sure your questions are answered,” Dr. Brewster said.
Where possible, she also encourages planning for cancer prevention rather than treatment.
“Exercise 150 minutes a week, avoid alcohol or limit alcohol intake, avoid sugary drinks and added sugars, and eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, breastfeed for as long as possible,” a said Dr. Brewster.
Mitchell is now cancer-free and wants more young people to get screened for breast cancer.
“We need to start screening younger, we need to do self-checks younger, we need to be aware at a younger age so we can really tackle this issue,” she said. “It all makes a difference and it really does make a difference when someone who looks like you talks 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 tested still goes back 40 years. Dr. Brewster said to remember that with self-checks it will be obvious that if something is wrong, don’t be afraid you don’t know what you’re looking for.
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