African-American women diagnosed with breast cancer are dying at a much faster rate than other women with the disease. The disparity is alarming and has medical experts desperately searching for answers.
Three women are diagnosed with breast cancer every day in St. Louis and St. Louis County. African-American women are dying at a 40 percent higher rate compared to other women, according to information from the American Cancer Society.
Washington University Assistant Professor of Surgery, Dr. Adetunji Toriola, said African American women tend to have more aggressive breast cancer and they're often diagnosed at much later stages. Toriola said they also tend to be diagnosed at an early age compared to other women. The median age of diagnosis for black women is 59, compared to the average age of white women, which is 63. Studies have also shown that overtime the younger the age of diagnosis the more aggressive the breast cancer.
African-American women also don’t get screened as regularly for breast cancer, according to Toriola, and he says socioeconomic status plays a factor. Due to financial concerns, African-American women often have reduced access to screening mammograms and poorer access to long-term care when they have an abnormal mammogram.
Helen Chesnut, executive director for Susan G. Komen Missouri, said her organization’s goal is to decrease the alarming death rate 50 percent by 2026. Komen does a community profile every four years, and they discovered one of the critical reasons for the higher death rate for African-American women is the need for more help with the navigation of the medical system.
Chesnut said there is a critical need for someone to help women understand where they need to go from diagnosis, treatment, and survivor care.
Komen Missouri works with a local non-profit group called the Breakfast Club. It was founded in January 1997 when three breast cancer survivors met for four hours over breakfast with a woman who just received diagnosis of breast cancer.
Now, the organization has more than 250 members, including Breakfast Club Brothers and Breakfast Club Kids groups. The Breakfast Club's goal is to increase the availability of breast cancer information, resources, navigation assistance, and support to underserved women in St. Louis Community.
The club also has a program called Faith on the Move. They partner with the Siteman Cancer Center and the BJC, Missouri Baptist Mobile, and Mercy Hospital mammography van to give free mammograms to women who have no insurance or who are underinsured. It services women who live in north St. Louis City and County.
If you would like to learn more about the Breakfast Club or the next time you can get a mammogram through the Faith on the Move program, click here.