Experts say there’s still a significant gap in breast cancer mortality rates between Black and White women
Despite large advancements in screening and technology, experts say there’s still a significant gap in breast cancer mortality rates between Black and White women.
Research from the National Cancer Research SEERS database, shows African American women have a 40% higher death rate than Caucasian women when it comes to breast cancer in 2019, despite a decrease in mortality in terms of breast cancer patients overall.
"In 2012 that mortality rate was 42% so despite the advancements we’ve made in screening, certainly despite all the advancements we’ve made in technology we still have not narrowed the gap between these two groups," Dr. Melinda Miller, a breast surgical oncologist with Spectrum Health, said.
Miller explained that the disparities in outcomes become more apparent when looking at younger Black patients.
"If you take a deeper dive and start looking at mortality rates in African American women and particularly in our younger patients below the age of 50, the mortality rate is 2.5 times higher than that of Caucasian women," she said, "If you look at mortality rates of patients over the age of 70, mortality rate is just 1.1 times higher, and so there’s something in this younger age group that is contributing to this mortality rate."
The Breast Cancer Research Foundation describes reasons behind this disparity gap "complex and multifactorial." According to the foundation, Black women are less likely to have adequate health insurance or access to health care facilities, which it says could affect screening and follow-up care. Black women are more likely to have diabetes, heart disease and obesity — all of which are factors for breast cancer.
"Clearly we know that there are socioeconomic factors that certainly contribute to breast health disparities and that includes poverty lack of health insurance or access to care, similar disparities that we saw with the pandemic," Miller said.
Lack of healthcare access to communities of color has been linked to systemic racism. Miller's team is working to close the gap with initiatives like Spectrum mobile mammography, to ensure all communities have access to screenings.
"There’s such a significant effort from the media from the community at large," Miller said, "There’s also a lot of effort with the spectrum mobile mammography making it accessible to all communities. I think we’re doing a good job with that. I think that there’s still some gaps that we need to fill."
Miller said aside from self-assessments, educational awareness and screenings, it's important for individuals to practice health nutrition and exercise habits to reduce the risk of breast cancer.
"The more we can do around education and encouraging the importance of annual exams as well as doing self assessment would pay dividends in the future," she said.