By Roz Edward
(Source Atlanta Tribune):
As Breast Cancer Awareness Month comes to a close its imperative that women keep up the fight and keep the issue in the forefront year-round. The month-long national recognition ends today, Oct. 31 but the disease doesn’t.
The hard truth is that every two minutes a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer. While one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer, Black women are nearly twice as likely to get an advanced-stage diagnosis and more likely to die from the disease.
And while disparities in breast cancer awareness, screening and treatment exist at every step of the process the stakes for Black women are remarkably higher than those of their White counterparts.
The More Than Just Words campaign is committed to engaging women more intimately in the process, arming them with valuable information and elevating their levels of understanding and awareness of the issues and how to best express and address their concerns for breast health.
According to the American Cancer Society, Black women, on average, are 40 percent more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer. Additionally, they have a higher chance than their white counterparts of developing the disease before 40 and are more likely to experience more aggressive forms of the disease.
“We don’t just want to pass out literature, “explains Dr. Gary. Dr. Monique Gary, a leading breast cancer surgeon and an advisor for the More than Just Words Campaign. “Part of the reason for the campaign is to help Black women to feel more empowered about their health so we can change those statistics.”
As is the case with most disparities in health care a number of factors contribute to the lack of informed, quality care for black women.
“There are a lot of factors that go into that disparity at every single stage. We know that there are access and socio-economic issues …. Covid did not do anybody any favors since we were already getting screened late, and now we are a year or more behind in our screening so we have a lot of catching up to do.” Garys adds that the science of breast cancer screening and awareness indicates that Black women are less prone to seeking out services as they are often the primary caretaker in their own households and responsible for providing for their families and others. Ironically these are also the factors that make early and regular screenings.
Gary adds that medical professionals are often guilty of bringing their own biases into the breast cancer diagnosis equation. “When young [Black] women present to their doctor and they go in and say, “Oh, I feel a lump,” they are often told they are too young to have breast cancer and to come back in six months, ” she explains adding that the delay could be deadly. “We are seeing younger and younger women who are dying from the disease … Doctors are not doing full-risk assessments to know when they should start screening. We hear about young women getting breast cancer at an alarming rate, so they really should screen better,” Gary said.
“We knew that Black women tend to be referred for less appropriate screenings and they may be behind in their screenings,” explains Dr. Gary. “There can be access to care issues or getting insurance coverage for health care or even just getting doctors to prescribe the right imaging for them. Black women are 30 percent more likely to have dense breast tissue which means they may need 3D imagng and ultrasounds [to detect issues].”
Consequently, the inequities in the standard of care result in Black women being less likely to receive proper imaging and treatment services, making them less likely to successfully complete care regimens. and life-saving treatment.
More than Just Words is committed to bringing resources to women where they are. More than Just Words partnered with Bexa to provide free breast cancer detection to women at One Musicfest in Atlanta. The exam only takes two to three minutes, is painless and radiation-free and participants receive results in real time, with referral information to follow up with their physicians. More than Just Words plans to continue to provide tools and resources to help improve breast cancer care for Black women.
While many women are afraid of getting screened as they are fearful of the results – especially if screening indicates that a biopsy may be in order for further examination – the good news is that for women who may be referred for biopsies the overwhelming majority of biopsies are benign.
“We don’t love getting mammograms,” says Dr. Gary. “But we have to prioritize our health … that’s why More Than Just Words is bringing screening to women where they are so they don’t have to take a day off work or find transportation home like after a colonoscopy.
“More Than Just Words is doing more than giving out t-shirts and pamphlets and fanny packs. We are giving them hope [and relevant information] with our Black Women’s Guide to Breast Cancer,” boasts Gary. “You should walk out of a visit understanding what you have or don’t have, what it is you need, what to look forward to at home. … There are things we can’t control and there are some things we can. We need to take screening for risks into our own hands and not wait around for the next step.”
Experts advise that Black women should start getting annual screenings as early as 35 and begin consulting with their doctor at age 30, especially for those with a family history of breast cancer.