Is Racism The Reason Black Women Are More Likely To Die From Breast Cancer?

November 26, 2012  |  

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Yesterday I read this piece on Diversity Inc., which stated that a recent study by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention has revealed that while breast cancer related deaths have gone down since 1990 among U.S. women, the rate of death is actually higher among black women.

What’s new right? It’s seems that black folks always have a higher rate of disease and mortality than any other group, especially when compared to white folks. However, it would behoove most folks to know that in general, black women have lower incidence rates of breast cancer. So how it is those black women have a 41 percent higher death rate from breast cancer than their white counterparts? In short, racism.

A more detailed answer comes by way of the same study entitled, Vital Signs: Racial Disparities in Breast Cancer Severity – United States, 2005-2009, which says that black women experience inequities in breast cancer screenings, follow-up and treatment even as advances in screening and treatment have improved opportunities for breast cancer survival.

According to the study,

“At the individual level, the maximal effectiveness of screening for breast cancer can only be achieved when all women have timely follow-up to breast cancer exams and state-of-the-art treatment. At the health system level, optimal health-care delivery may be strengthened through performance-based reimbursement, expanded use of information technology, and quality assurance reporting-protocols. Proven effective interventions such as patient navigation could be expanded for use in other settings.”

As the study further notes,

the prevalence of mammography use decreased from 77% to 65% among white women and from 78% to 59% among black women (7). Black women are more likely to have longer intervals between screening mammograms which might lead to an increase in diagnosis of cancer at a later stage (8). Regular and adequate breast cancer screening can result in detection of breast cancer at an earlier stage and therefore a better prognosis (8,9).”

That’s why ladies it is important that we get the breast check out on time.

However, as we encourage women to seek out early prevention – as well as follow-up – methods, the study notes that even when black women seek out treatment, the quality of response is not always there.

“Advances in treatment of breast cancer are estimated to be responsible for a quarter of the recent decline in breast cancer deaths (2). However, several studies have reported that black women do not receive the same quality of treatment for breast cancer as white women (15). A recent modeling study showed that up to 19% of the mortality difference between black and white women could be eliminated if the same treatment was provided to both populations (4). “

The study also cites the failure to start treatment in a timely matter, as a third causation to the rate of death from breast cancer in black women. This doesn’t come as much as a surprise considering an earlier study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, concluded that two-thirds of doctors harbored racial yet unconscious biases toward patients. This is particularly true of African-Americans, who according to the study, have felt that their personal and psychosocial needs were given less attention; were less likely to have their feelings involved in the decision making about their health and tended to have their conversations about their health dominated by doctors. According to that study, researchers concluded that this subtle racial bias among these unconsciously racist doctors can have a negative impact on not only the quality of care received but also “the quality of doctor-patient relationship.”

The quality of doctor-patient relationship is crucial for African Americans, who have long been subjected to racism within the health care sector. Stories about non-consensual medical experiments such as the Tuskegee Experiment and Dr. J. Marion Sims, the grandfather of gynecological, who experimented with his surgical techniques on the bodies (often without anesthesia) of enslaved black women, have been careful reminders of what the history of the overt forms of racism in the medical profession.  And while healthcare, through the implementation of Obamacare, now guarantees some form of healthcare for most, it doesn’t necessarily mean equal. Thus it is up to us to speak up and be a diligent advocating our own healthcare needs.

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