Our Health

The State of the Black Breast Cancer Crisis

The global pandemic has made a substantial impact to our healthcare system, especially on patients, which can include breast cancer survivors who need to continue care beyond treatment. A widespread drop in important cancer screenings, including mammograms, may lead to an uptick in delayed diagnoses. For Black women, who were already experiencing disparities in care, the timing of breast cancer screenings is especially critical.

During Breast Cancer Awareness Month, it’s important to recognize these disparities in care. Get It Done, a Pfizer initiative that encourages patients to be proactive about cancer screenings, is taking a stance to break down barriers and make sure Black women are educated on the resources available to them in order to continue important cancer screenings and follow-up appointments.

Black women have a 31% breast cancer mortality rate, the highest of any racial or ethnic group in the U.S. That’s why it’s vital to have organizations like Sister’s Network, whose mission for 27 years has been to spread local and national awareness about the importance of timely breast cancer screenings and education.

Why are there disparities in cancer screenings among Black communities?
Although Black women have a slightly lower incidence rate of breast cancer, their survival rates have always trailed behind those of white women – they have the shortest survival rate of any racial/ethnic group. Since Black women face these differences in cancer diagnosis and care, there’s a need for more education about the importance of annual screenings.

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For Black women specifically in low-income communities, access to quality care is difficult. Fortunately, groups like Sister’s Network are working to encourage and educate women in Black communities about getting screened as soon as they are eligible.

Looking at the importance of cancer screenings
Knowing the statistics can be crucial to understanding how cancer disproportionately affects Black women. In Black women, 23% of breast cancer diagnoses occur below the age of 50 — for white women it’s only 16%, with more diagnoses occurring in women in their 50s and 60s. On top of that, Black women are more frequently diagnosed with aggressive cancer subtypes and higher rates of recurrence, putting them at an added risk and greater need for timely treatment. The American Cancer Society guidelines recommend that women ages 40-44 can choose to have annual mammograms but it’s not required.

Kanesha Broadwater, an oncology nurse at Northwestern Hospital and who has collaborated with Pfizer on Get It Done, expresses the importance of early screenings, specifically during the pandemic. “Getting patients screened during ‘normal times’ was already a struggle,” recalled Kanesha. “We saw an increase in missed screenings during the pandemic, which was very worrisome. But through Get It Done, I want to break down those barriers that made it difficult for people to get screened.”

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Stepping up to Get It Done
It is important to have conversations around cancer screenings with your doctors, but also friends and family, drawing attention to the increased risk for Black women and influencing each other to, well, get it done.

“A good chunk of people I speak to are people of color and I really feel drawn to share with those patients,” said Kanesha, who takes opportunities to share her cancer screening story when she feels like it might be helpful to her patients who are facing similar struggles.

The Get it Done partnership with Sisters Network Inc. hopes to educate the community on the importance of cancer screenings, how to take the next step in speaking with their doctors, and knowing what resources are available to them in order to learn more. Visit GetCancerScreened.com to learn more and read inspirational stories like Kanesha’s to prepare for your next cancer screening or follow-up appointment.

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