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

November 26, 2012  |  


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.

Trending on MadameNoire

View Comments
Comment Disclaimer: Comments that contain profane or derogatory language, video links or exceed 200 words will require approval by a moderator before appearing in the comment section. XOXO-MN
  • lynn

    My sisters, please check out goodguide. It lists everyday things we use and a breakdown of the ingredients. You can avoid some of these cancer causing ingredients used in a lot of personal care items. I lost my mother to breast cancer almost 2 years ago. She died because she waited too long to get treatment. I watched her die slowly and painfully. I wouldn’t wish that on my enemy.

  • Joules

    I don’t know. Part of me really wants to see a study that compares the care blacks receive to that of whites in similar pay brackets. As a paramedic I can tell you, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the care and follow-up you get at a cheaper county-owned facility isn’t comparable to what you’d get if you had insurance and went to a doctor that operates from a different part of town.

    I’ve never had an issue with follow-up care from any of physicians. I will note that the only physician I have who’s white is my allergist but my PCP (Asian), Gynecologist (Hispanic), and Gastroenterologist (Indian) were all amazing and not only recommended proper follow-up but explained to me why I needed it when I expressed distaste in returning to the office.

    • Guest

      I agree with the comparative study. I would like to see how that works as well, because seeing how that plays into care can be telling as well. Speaking from my own experience, I had my baseline breast exam this year and my doctor (Pakistani) immediately scheduled me for further exams by 2 (both white) oncologists after finding 6 small cysts in each breast (they were calcifications thank you Lord). They were all highly recommended, very informative, caring, and helpful. I know this is not the case for all women, but you also have to be your own advocate, and definitely seek treatment when you think something is wrong.

  • IllyPhilly

    I’m going to go with no, but I can only speak from what I seen from the black women that I know who have died including my mother. They never made the time to go through with the procedures to get healthy. Running the family was more important than health, they just lost hope.

  • J A SASSY aka salon22w

    I believe the white Drs dont give blk people the same treatment.. and then they come up with these studies and stats on how blks have more of this and that.. BULL.. i went to a w DR to lance a boil on my elbow and he want to send me to surgery and cut it and give me stitches,, i wen right back home and strerilized a needle poked it, cleaned it out and it drained and its healing to a flat sorface.. F those money hungry lying A__ Drs.


    No, its what chemicals and hormones they put in our food and sell it to us (genetically modified food). They make “organic” food so expensive most blacks cant afford!!

    • Anne

      Exactly. If blacks watched what they ate more, they wouldn’t be
      suffering from so many of these diseases. What they are not going to
      tell you is that black women are more likely to be OBESE, which can
      trigger all sorts of cancers.

    • Joules

      Nothing is stopping you from making a home garden. I live in an apartment and, after reading countless books, articles and surfing pinterest, I have a 2×4′ patio garden. I live in Houston so it’s pretty much a year round growing season but everything I grow is organic and amazing. I’m trying to force my husband to figure out how to make a window box that will clip on the outside of our one window so I can grow herbs.

      • TRUTH IS

        You should watch “what are they spraying….” on youtube. I know what organic is coming from a small island. North America Organic leaves a big question mark in my mind!

    • SheBe

      I agree. Breastfeeding education, home gardens, and community gardening are just a few great tools that will help our community out.

  • Kitsy

    After reading all these reports on white doctors not giving their black patients the same level of care as white patients, I made the decision to seek-out black physicians only. I did my research and found two highly regarded black doctors in my city that I will now be going to – a primary care doctor and an OB/GYN.

    • SheBe

      Ditto. My OB-GYN and primary care are a husband and wife team and they are well respected and highly sought out in my city as well. They are both passionate about the care of our community and very honest and reliable.

    • Go!

      Ya think????

    • wepo1

      White feminism is the reason why black women are left out, because black women think the white feminist movement is about them!