Although 1 out of 8 women will develop breast cancer in the United States, it remains deadliest for Black women. A recent study by the Sinai Urban Health Institute in Chicago, IL reveals that African-American women are more likely to die of breast cancer not due to genetics, but because of racial disparity and inequality in health care. Subsequently, nearly five Black women needlessly die everyday because they lack the proper information and quality services.
The realities of inadequate health care, access, and poverty in the Black community are also mixed with fear, silence, and suspicion of the medical system who only fifty years ago purposefully infected 400 poor Black men with syphilis in a medical study known as the Tuskegee experiment.
Mistrust and historic disenfranchisement greatly impact those battling breast cancer, a disease that has a 98% survival rate if caught early. In an interview with Dr. Regina Hampton of the Capital Breast Center the Washington Post writes of this skepticism:
“… Hampton and others think [Black] women also carry angst stemming from a historically unhealthy relationship between African Americans and a medical system that was inaccessible. Often lacking the money or insurance for preventive care, many [Black] people didn’t seek medical help until they were seriously ill.”
In addition to Black women, Black male breast cancer patients and survivors like African-American icon Richard Roundtree who played John Shaft in the 1970s Blaxploitation action film Shaft, face the same barriers compounded with the social stigma with having an illness that rarely impacts men. Because male breast cancer accounts for just 1% of all breast cancer diagnoses, Black men are even less likely to visit their healthcare provider upon discovery of a lump. Roundtree, a breast cancer survivor since 1993, is an outspoken advocate male breast cancer and encourages others to break the silence and seek treatment.
Yet beyond the silence, institutional barriers and discrimination in the American healthcare system persist. In Texas, Governor Rick Perry recently moved to cut $5 million in funds to the Texas Women’s Health Program allotted to Planned Parenthood. The “war on Planned Parenthood” launched by Republican politicians and the pro-life lobby threatens the organization, which provides millions with vital breast cancer screenings and mammograms nationwide. With the rate of uninsured African Americans rising to 20.5% in 2010, Planned Parenthood has seen an increase in Black patients rise to 36%, including an increase of 27% of Black males.
As Breast Cancer Awareness Month and October draw to a close, the efforts to spread awareness of breast cancer and secure life saving services should continue.
Early detection and screenings remain critical and The American Cancer Society recommends the following::
● Breast self-examination starting in the 20s
● Yearly mammograms starting at age 40
● Clinical breast exams as part of a periodic health exam and yearly for those over 40
Check out “The Wisdom of Survivors,” featuring African-American breast cancer survivors sharing personal experiences and how they overcame the disease and the barriers to access here.
(note on article content: during the Tuskegee Experiment, the men experimented upon were never told they had it and never given information or an access to the cure-instead, they withheld treatment, allowed them to spread it to their wives and children, and watched 400 men go insane and die of a horrific disease that would have been easily cured with antibiotics. I’m unaware of any evidence that shows that the men were initially infected on purpose, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they weren’t, nor does that make it any less terrifyingly nightmarish.)