Why does breast cancer affect more African American women? There are numerous possible reasons breast cancer kills more African American women, proportionately speaking. According to Womenshealth.gov, African American women “are more likely than all other women to die from breast cancer,” and that’s partially because they tend to find their tumors in later stages of development.
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Later breast cancer detection means there are fewer treatment options, and that leads to a lower survival rate. From 2002 to 2008, the organization Sisters Network Inc. reports on their official website, the five-year survival rate following breast cancer diagnosis was 78 percent for African American women. For white women, it was 90 percent, and that statistic alone is proof how breast cancer affects African American women far differently than it does white women.
Other reasons African American women are more likely to die from breast cancer may be linked to socioeconomic circumstances and cultural attitudes. According to NBC News, many black women receive inferior medical care and often avoid doctors altogether. What’s more, black women “are in poorer shape overall than whites when they’re diagnosed” with breast cancer, according to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. “They come in sicker, with more advanced disease and more chronic conditions,” said Dr. Jeffrey Silber, who led the study.
Access to care, overall health, and attitudes about visiting doctors appear to be major factors in why breast cancer affects African American women so severely. According to Sisters Network, it’s the most commonly diagnosed cancer for black women, and by the end of this year, some 27,060 new cases will have been diagnosed. In 2013, breast cancer was expected to kill 6,040 African American women. While access to care, attitudes about doctors, overall health, and early vs. late detection seem to be key reasons breast cancer affects black women differently, “much of this disparity remains unexplained,” according to Sisters Network.
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As Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, the American Cancer Society’s deputy chief medical officer, told NBC, there’s a need in America to provide access to adequate care to all women before they get cancer. That might help counteract breast cancer’s impact on the African American community.
“We do need to make resources available,” Lichtenfeld said. “We as a nation have to make the decision that this is simply not acceptable. When people get angry about situations like this, things will happen.”