In-depth: Why African American women are more likely to die of breast cancer

African American women are 40% more likely to die of breast cancer
Black women and cancer
Posted at 7:06 PM, Jan 12, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-21 14:22:22-05

TAMPA, Fla — About one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. Experts say African American women are more likely to die of breast cancer than white women.

According to the American Cancer Society, African American women are 40% more likely to die of breast cancer than white women and are twice as likely to die if they’re over 50.

“I was diagnosed in May of 2007,” said Tiffany Lott, a breast cancer survivor. “I found it by a self-examination.” She was just 38 years old with two young children when she was diagnosed. Though she had to go through several rounds of chemo and radiation, she said her faith and her family got her through. “My husband was absolutely wonderful. I had a very good circle. My mom was there for me, my grandmother, my sister, my brother. So, everyone was very positive.”

Dr. Monique Gary is with Novartis, a pharmaceutical company, and she is also the Medical Director of the Grand View Health Cancer Program. She said Black women are more likely to be diagnosed at a later stage.

“Our access and utilization of screening is deferential in different areas, in rural areas, in areas of lower social-economic status. There is less uptick in annual screenings,” said Dr. Gary.

Dr. Gary said the pandemic has exacerbated these disparities. That is why Novartis launched the “More Than Just Words” initiative, to not just bring awareness about the disparities that exist in breast cancer for Black women, but to do something about them. “We can say a lot. We can put words on the internet, but how do we reach people and impact those lives and measure that influence.”

In order to do that, they are focusing on three things: highlighting stories and narratives from Black women to Black doctors, providing informational toolkits so Black women know exactly what to ask their doctors and doctors know how to provide the best care for Black women, and increasing health literacy. “We’re really going to try to demystify what cancer care looks like and what breast health and preventative screening looks like.”

They are even teaming up with famous people to get the message out there like Grammy-nominated singer, Jazmine Sullivan. “She’s sharing her lived experience with her family and her advocacy and her influence in the community.”

Dr. Hatem Soliman with the Moffitt Cancer Center said it is very important that women stay on their check-ups. “Starting at age 40 and going up is usually when most women would begin routine mammographic screening,” said Dr. Soliman.

He also said, if breast cancer is in your family, you should start to get screenings at an age 10 years younger than the youngest relative to be diagnosed with breast cancer. So, having that conversation with your relatives about your family health history is essential.

As for Lott – the breast cancer survivor – she has a few messages for Black women. “First is that your life is worth living. Early detection is fabulous and no matter what they say to you, there’s life after the diagnosis. So go through the process.”

Here is a link to “A Black Woman’s Guide to ‘the Best Cancer Talk’ with Doctors”

Moffit Cancer Center