Despite Advanced Treatments, More Black Women Still Die of Breast Cancer

By Chris Hoenig

On average, five Black women die every day from breast cancer, solely because of racial disparities in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of the disease, according to a new study.

And the same technologies that are helping white women beat breast cancer are failing Black women all around the nation.

Researchers at Sinai Urban Health Institute and the Avon Foundation Breast Cancer Crusade found that the racial divide in breast-cancer mortality rates is only widening. From 20052009, almost one-third of Black women who were diagnosed with breast cancer nationwide died from the disease, compared with less than one-quarter of white women. The nearly 40 percent increase in the mortality rate is on par with a CDC study released last year, and it more than doubles the gap that existed in the early 1990s, when Black women were 17 percent more likely to die of breast cancer.

The study’s authors looked at 41 of the nation’s 50 largest cities and found that in almost all of them, Black women are no more likely to die from the disease than they were in the early 1990s. But they’re hardly any less likely, either.

Mortality rates for white women have dropped significantly over that time. In Memphis, where the biggest racial gaps exist, the mortality rate for white women dropped from 36.4 percent from 19901994 to 21.0 percent from 20052009. In that same period, the mortality rate for Black women only dropped from 46.3 percent to 44.3 percentmore than doubling the racial divide and making Black women more than twice as likely to die of breast cancer than white women.

White women were actually more likely than Black women to die from breast cancer in Wichita, Kan., in the early 1990s. Now, the mortality rate for Black women in the city is 71 percent higher than it is for whites.

So why are Black women facing a divide that gets deadlier by the day According to the authors, it’s because of the same life-saving technology that’s lowered the mortality rates for white women.

“Certain technological advances related to screening and treatment became available in the 1990s and Black women, who are disproportionately poor and un- or underinsured, were less able to obtain access to the these advances,” the authors wrote. “The phenomenon that technical advances could actually widen disparities has manifested itself according to what some authors have called the ‘amenability index,'” which also applies to other types of cancer and diseases.

For these researchers, the trends among the gaps demonstrate that access to care and technology are the biggest obstacles to health equality. “The task in front of us now is to eliminate these disparities,” they write. “Once we make advances, we must take steps to distribute these advances equally.

“Indeed, our task must be more than just observing and analyzing the world of disparities; it must involve taking actions to eliminate them,” something that requires the participation and support of all health providers in a city. “The very privilege that has provided access to the advances in breast-cancer early diagnosis and treatment now must be shared with those for whom access has been limited.

“What we humbly propose,” the authors conclude, “is that first we try providing equal access to quality early detection and treatment and determine the progress that we can make there.”

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