Five African-American women each day, and 1,722 annually, die from breast cancer, according to a new study released by the Avon Foundation Breast Cancer Forum. But contrary to popular belief, social issues are the main contributing factor, not genetics.

The “2012 Racial Disparity in Breast Cancer Mortality Study” was conducted by Sinai Urban Health Institute, based in Chicago.

“Our research shows societal factors—not genetics—are largely to blame for the racial disparity in breast cancer mortality nationwide,” said Steve Whitman, Ph.D., director of Sinai Urban Health Institute and the study’s lead author. “When a woman believes genetics causes her disease, it breeds a sense of hopelessness and fear. Our study proves that Black women can play an active role in reducing their risk of dying from breast cancer by getting screened and following through with treatment. But it’s incumbent on society to improve access to quality mammography and to ensure that breast cancer treatment is available to all women, including the under- and un-insured.”

The report’s authors said the study is the first to examine the racial disparity in breast cancer mortality at the city level in the United States. It found that 21 of 25 major U.S. cities have a Black—White disparity as it relates to breast cancer mortality.

Other key findings include:
 – 13 cities have a statistically significant disparity between the two races (in order of population size): New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, San Diego, Dallas, Jacksonville, Columbus, Memphis, Seattle, Boston and Denver.
 – More than one Black woman a week dies needlessly in both Chicago and New  York because of the racial disparity
 – Memphis has the highest disparity of the 25 largest cities
 – San Francisco has the smallest disparity of the 25 largest cities

And those disparities, the study concluded, can be attributed mostly to societal risks and not genetics.

The researchers analyzed breast cancer deaths reported between 2005-2007 against seven ecological risk factors, including race, poverty level and racial residential segregation.

The Avon Foundation Breast Cancer Crusade has donated nearly $445 million to support breast cancer research and access to care. The results of this study demonstrate why further advocacy is needed, officials said.
“For 20 years the Avon Breast Cancer Crusade’s mission has been to ensure all women, regardless of their race, income level and ability to pay, have access to the best quality breast health care. Although we have made much progress in this mission, the results of the 2012 Racial Disparity in Breast Cancer Mortality Study demonstrate that we still have much more work to do,” said Marc Hurlbert, Ph.D., executive director of the Avon Breast Cancer Crusade. “Access to quality care is a matter of life or death for far too many U.S. women and the Avon Breast Cancer Crusade will persevere until all women have access to the advances made possible by improved breast cancer screening and treatment.”

Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO