Black women and breast cancer
Black Women and Breast Cancer Disparities | BIPOC

Black Women and Breast Cancer Disparities | BIPOC

Dana Donofree
4 min read

Black Women and Breast Cancer Disparities | BIPOC

Black women are disproportionately impacted by breast cancer. 

In the U.S. alone, Black women are nearly 40 percent more likely to die than white women. In addition, Black women are diagnosed at a later stage, have more aggressive cancers, and are diagnosed with breast cancer at a younger age than compared to white women. Black women make up almost 30 percent of all newly diagnosed breast cancer patients, while white women make up only 20 percent. Black women are also more likely to have larger tumors and to have their cancer spread to their underarm lymph nodes (glands) at the time of diagnosis.

“These statistics are appalling,” said  Ashley Dedmon, MPH, CHES® a cancer research and patient advocate. “I want Black women to stop dying from breast cancer at these alarming rates.”

In recent years, breast cancer has surpassed lung as the most commonly diagnosed cancer, but breast cancer prevention has declined dramatically. In an effort to get some clarity on these disturbing figures, we chatted with Dedmon about cancer disparities for Black women, how to bridge the gap, what screenings to get, and so much more. 

What is a Cancer Disparity?

cancer disparity, or cancer health disparity, is the difference between new instances of cancer, cancer prevalence, cancer mortality, or cancer survival rates. When healthcare is not equally available, for example, cancer disparities occur. In marginalized and underserved communities, cancer disparities are often caused by a lack of resources that creates barriers and obstacles to getting proper treatment. 

Black Women and Breast Cancer

According to Dedmon, there are several factors that contribute to breast cancer disparities in mortality and late-stage diagnosis among Black women compared to white women. These are:

  • Social determinants of health
  • Medical distrust
  • Low enrollment in clinical trials
  • Implicit racial bias
  • Racial health disparities

Social determinants, however, stand out as being the most alarming factor to Dedmon. 

“It’s important to understand that transactional or traditional approaches to address social determinants of health may lead to better health outcomes in some communities and for some people, but the goal is to advance health equity,” Dedmon said. “We can only do that through systemic and transformational change, requiring a shift in resources, policies, political structures, and more.”

Bridging The Gap

Various studies have examined the causes of health disparities with the goal of identifying and resolving the root causes. Dedmon said that taking steps to address long standing biases that create these disparities is one way to lower health inequity rates, in addition to having a basic understanding of common terms and definitions as it relates to what needs to be addressed and what needs to be achieved.

For example, an important distinction needs to be made between health disparities and health inequities. Dedmon acknowledges that these terms are often used interchangeably, but actually mean different things.

“Health disparities are defined as disproportionate differences in the presence of disease, health outcomes, or access to health care of one group relative to another,” Dedmon said. “These differences can result from poverty, structural racism, and discrimination, whereas health inequities are defined as the differences in health that are not only unnecessary and avoidable but are considered unfair and unjust.”

Health equity is when each person has the chance to reach their full health potential, without any social challenges or barriers.

In addition, policies have historically shaped healthcare in the Black community, and we need to advocate for transformational and equitable policies to address these disparities. Other ways to bridge the gap include:

  • Aiming to eliminate implicit racial bias in the healthcare system by diversifying the healthcare workforce
  • Establishing progressive partnerships between community-based organizations.
  • Informing Black women when they meet the criteria about clinical trial opportunities and genetic testing from their providers
  • On-going and bidirectional communication between patients and caregivers regarding obstacles and challenges
  • Prevention such as screenings, treatment, genetic testing, and risk management options
  • Advocating for change

What Screenings Should Black Women Get?

A woman's most powerful weapon in the fight against breast cancer is early detection, and Dedmon believes that awareness begins at home.

“You are the expert of your own body,” Dedmon said. “Monthly breast self-exams are important and can start at any age — speak with your doctor about the proper way to perform a breast self-exam and the best age to begin — but they are not enough. We must also get our annual mammograms and well-women exams consistently.”

In addition to annual mammograms and consistent well-women exams, you should be looking at your family health history and see if there are any additional screenings you should get. Last but not least, the  National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) guidelines offer a wealth of information about types of screenings and screening frequency. 

Products to Avoid

In light of the risks faced by Black communities, it's vital to reform the beauty industry to ensure that cosmetic products, especially those that target the Black community, are safe. Many products often target Black women, and ingredients in them can be problematic. Some of the main products to watch out for according to  Breast Cancer Prevention Partners are: 

  1. Skin lighteners
  2. Hair relaxers
  3. Brazilian blowout treatments
  4. Acrylic nails

Additional Resources for Black Women and BIPOC

“I believe it’s important that Black women know the treatment, detection, prevention, and risk  reduction guidelines,” Dedmon said. 

Check out these organizations that are leaders in this area and share a mission to eliminate disparities in breast cancer below. In order to help Black women make informed healthcare decisions, they provide credible, evidence-based resources and tools. Furthermore, they provide support and advocacy, as well as education to women and their families. 

“We all must face our mortality at some point, but our race and place (zip code) and ability to access basic human resources should not be factors, but they are,” Dedmon said. 

What is AnaOno doing to bridge the gap? Check out this blog post to learn about our efforts to help bridge this gap.

Dana Donofree
Dana Donofree

Founder and CEO of AnaOno. After a diagnosis of breast cancer in her late 20’s, Dana took her own lived experience and fashion design background and (re)designed intimates for those that have undergone breast surgery. Dana’s story has been published around the world in outlets like New York Times, BBC, Huffington Post, The Today Show, and more.