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Black women impacted more by breast cancer

Breast cancer month

Merdies Hayes | 10/3/2013, midnight | Updated on 10/7/2013, 4:46 p.m.
The statistics are alarming. They have been for a generation. The American Cancer Society estimates that one in eight (or ...

Researchers also found treatment for Black women was not as good as that of White patients received because the former set of women were less likely to receive combinations of chemotherapy drugs and were directed to undergo surgery with no therapy afterward. WHY

“By the time Blacks [visit the doctor], they’re so sick that treatment isn’t changing the outcomes,” said Dr. Jeffrey H. Silber, director for the Center for Outcomes Research at Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia and leader of a 2011 study conducted by his group. “The outcome is already fated to be poor when patients come in with such advanced disease.” In 2011, 6,040 Black women died from breast cancer.

According to the Atlanta-based medical advocacy group Black Women’s Health Imperative (BWHI), breast cancer tends to appear in Black women at a younger age and in more advanced forms. They announced in 2011 that African American women are twice as likely to develop “triple negative” breast cancer, an aggressive form of the disease which has fewer effective treatment options. This form of cancer grows and spreads more swiftly in Black women possibly because of breast density—one of the strongest predictors of risk for breast cancer and also a known factor limiting the sensitivity of a screening/mammogram. In short, mammograms of breasts with higher density are harder to read and interpret than those of less density. A small tumor can be concealed by dense breast tissue, or by the overlap of normal breast structures.

A diagnosis of “ triple negative” breast cancer means that the three most common types of receptors known to fuel most breast cancer growth (estrogen, progesterone and the HER-2/neu gene) are not present in the cancer tumor. The breast cancer cells have tested negative for hormone epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER-2), estrogen receptors (ER) and progesterone receptors (PR). Because the tumor cells lack the necessary receptors, common treatments like hormone therapy and drugs that target estrogen, progesterone and HER-2 are ineffective. Chemotheraphy is still an effective option and triple negative breast cancer may respond better to chemotherapy—provided if it is caught in the early stage. Triple negative breast cancer occurs in 10 to 20 percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer and is more likely to affect younger people, African Americans and Hispanics.

There is another equally devastating cancer diagnosis: “inflammatory” breast cancer cannot be detected via self examination nor by mammograms or early diagnosis. It does not appear as a tumor but, rather, as a flowing mass of carcinogens that can travel from the breast, chest wall and lodge within any organ in the body. Although White women are diagnosed frequently with this form of breast cancer, Black women die from it at much higher rates. Doctors are still not familiar with this diagnosis (categorized within the four stages of breast cancer as “3B”), and an accurate count of cases remains elusive. It is the fastest moving cancer and, when found, survival is rare, according to Jocelyn Earls.

“Black women are being misdiagnosed from the start,” said Earls, who has battled inflammatory breast cancer since 2011. Her Rialto-based organization, “Fighting 4 the TaTas: Inflammatory Breast Cancer” is striving to sound the alarm call for women of color about this deadly diagnosis. “We don’t receive the same care as White women, but there is a sad tradition within the Black family about revealing bad news. It’s the ‘I don’t claim’ attitude. We won’t reveal this publicly because too many Black women will simply say to themselves ‘no one needs to know.’ Basically, if you ‘speak it,’ then you ‘claim it.’ We have our heads stuck in the sand on this issue.”