Why are Black Women More Likely to Die of Breast Cancer?

The death rate from breast cancer is decreasing, but not necessarily for Black women. Why this gap exists, plus updated guidance on who should be screened and when.

While breast cancer rates for Black women and white women are roughly the same, Black women have a 40% higher death rate from breast cancer, according to information from the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF).

And, for women younger than 50, the gap is even wider. “While young women have a higher incidence of aggressive cancers, young Black women have double the mortality rate of young white women,” according to BCRF.

Advances in early detection and treatment mean fewer women die overall, but the mortality gap between Black women and white women still exists. The question is why?

What contributes to the gap

Four primary factors for this disparity exist, according to University of Chicago Medicine Ingalls Memorial community physician Sasmita Misra, MD. Genetics, cultural norms, socioeconomic status and access to care all play a part, Dr. Misra says.

Research indicates that Black women are genetically more susceptible to triple-negative breast cancer, and “earlier onset, more advanced stage at diagnosis and aggressive tumor phenotype are some of the characteristic features” of this type of cancer, according to recent research published in the journal Cancers.

Perceived out-of-pocket screening costs may delay or prohibit women from seeking care. “However, public and private insurance plans, including Medicaid and Medicare, are required by law to cover the cost of yearly breast screenings,” says Dr. Misra. “Additionally, patients may find local programs that help cover the cost or pay for the screening entirely.”

Building trust

Some Black women don’t trust the health care system, and there are many reasons for this, including a history of racism in medical studies, according to the Journal of Cultural Diversity. Together with indications that Black patients are taken less seriously when they report health concerns to doctors, Black women may be less likely to act proactively for breast cancer screenings and treatments.

To counter this, Dr. Misra suggests that physicians work to explain conditions and recommended treatments clearly and direct patients to resources to help build trust and understanding in their patients.

Screening continues to be an important tool in detecting breast cancer for all women. Here are some guidelines from UChicago Medicine:

  • 40 is the recommended age to begin annual breast screenings, regardless of race.
  • For women with a family history, annual screenings should begin at age 30 or 10 years earlier than the affected family member’s age at diagnosis. “For instance, if the patient’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 35, the patient should start getting breast screenings at the age of 25,” according to UChicago Medicine information.
  • Knowing that women need flexibility, UChicago Medicine has various locations in Chicagoland that offer flexible hours, including weekends. A referral is not required, and patients can call 855-702-8222 or 708-915-3333 to schedule.

Content brought to you by UChicago Medicine. Learn about UChicago Medicine and Comer Children’s unique approach to caring for women and children. Discover UchicagoMedicine.org.

Claire Charlton
Claire Charlton
An enthusiastic storyteller, Claire Charlton focuses on delivering top client service as a content editor for Chicago Parent. In her 20+ years of experience, she has written extensively on a variety of topics and is keen on new tech and podcast hosting. Claire has two grown kids and loves to read, run, camp, cycle and travel.

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