Racial disparities in breast cancer.

Racial disparities in breast cancer.

The Racial Disparities in Breast Cancer: Women of Color Deserve Better

Jasmine Souers
Jasmine Souers, a young Black woman, was diagnosed with stage I breast cancer. Her story sheds light on the racial disparities in breast cancer outcomes for women of color in the United States.

Breast cancer affects thousands of women every year and is a leading cause of death among women in the United States. However, there are significant disparities in how this disease impacts different racial and ethnic groups. Jasmine Souers, a 25-year-old Black woman, experienced this firsthand when she was diagnosed with breast cancer after being initially dismissed by doctors who believed she was too young to have the disease.

Souers noticed a discharge from her nipples, but she didn’t feel any lumps. Despite negative results from mammograms and ultrasounds, Souers persisted in seeking answers about her symptoms. Finally, a breast MRI confirmed multiple tumors and a stage I breast cancer diagnosis. Souers recalls this time as chaotic but ultimately took charge of her own health.

Disparities in Breast Cancer Outcomes

“It is sobering to see the disparities in breast cancer outcomes for Black women compared to White women,” says Dorraya El-Ashry, PhD, chief scientific officer at the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. While White women are more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer, Black women face a 40% higher death rate. Moreover, Black women are more likely to be diagnosed at an earlier age and with aggressive forms of cancer like triple-negative breast cancer. They are also more likely to receive a late-stage diagnosis compared to White women.

Poverty, social injustice, and structural racism are factors that contribute to these disparities. Women with lower incomes are less likely to have regular health screenings, treatments, and follow-ups. Research shows that women of color, especially Hispanic and Black women, are more likely to live in poverty than White women. Lower income can affect access to health insurance, quality healthcare, and healthy lifestyle choices. Additionally, genetic factors may play a role, with Black women being more likely to have BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations linked to breast cancer.

Historical discrimination and racism have also resulted in a higher level of mistrust in medical authorities within the Black community. This impacts their willingness to engage with healthcare professionals and participate in clinical trials.

Creating Supportive Communities

Marissa Thomas, another survivor, shared similar experiences when seeking information about surgery. She found a lack of representation of Black women in the breast cancer community. Struggling to find resources and support, Thomas connected with Souers online and together they co-founded a group called For the Breast of Us. The group aims to uplift and empower women of color with breast cancer, providing advocacy, support, and resources. Through social media and a private Facebook page, they have built a vibrant community of over 700 members where these women can find guidance and understanding.

Marissa Thomas
Marissa Thomas, breast cancer survivor, co-founded For the Breast of Us to create a supportive community for women of color with breast cancer.

Addressing Clinical Trial Representation

Participation in clinical trials is crucial for developing effective treatments for all populations. Unfortunately, women of color are underrepresented in breast cancer clinical trials. El-Ashry points out that Black women have fewer opportunities to participate in clinical trials and are less likely to be involved in clinical research. This disparity in representation could be due to underlying health conditions, lack of awareness, and limited access to trial opportunities.

Efforts like For the Breast of Us aim to increase awareness and participation of women of color in clinical trials. Researchers and healthcare providers must also prioritize inclusivity, engage with diverse communities, and address any biases to bridge the racial gap in breast cancer care.

The Importance of Breast Cancer Screening

Regular breast cancer screening is essential for early detection and improved outcomes. However, guidelines and recommendations vary among medical organizations. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) suggests starting annual screening mammograms at age 40, while other organizations recommend starting at age 45 or 55, depending on an individual’s risk profile.

It is crucial for women to have open and honest discussions with their doctors about their personal risk factors and decide on the most suitable screening plan. Women with a family history or genetic predisposition may benefit from additional screenings like MRIs alongside mammograms.

Closing the Racial Gap

To close the racial gap in breast cancer outcomes, communication and understanding are paramount. Healthcare providers must actively listen to the needs of their Black and brown patients, and patients can seek out patient advocates or navigators within their communities for additional support.

Efforts to create meaningful change also require the allies in the breast cancer community, including those who do not identify as women of color. By using their privilege and platforms, they can amplify the voices and experiences of women of color and challenge the systemic injustices faced by this population.

Ultimately, comprehensive research, increased investment, and a commitment to addressing disparities are necessary to move towards equity in breast cancer outcomes. Women of color deserve an equal chance to access quality healthcare, participate in clinical trials, and be supported throughout their breast cancer journey. It is time to level the playing field so that no woman has to face this disease alone or at a higher risk.