Left Behind In The Battle Against Breast Cancer

. September 12, 2017.
Sheena Barnes (right) and her daughter protesting in Toledo, demanding access and funding for Planned Parenthood, which conducts breast exams and assists low-income patients with mammogram access.
Sheena Barnes (right) and her daughter protesting in Toledo, demanding access and funding for Planned Parenthood, which conducts breast exams and assists low-income patients with mammogram access.

With the Race for the Cure quickly approaching, the awareness of breast cancer increases shared through social media, informative pamphlets, and educational events. Yet, with all the talk about saving the ta-ta’s, Lucas County has a problem.  Not the worst in Ohio, in the area, roughly 30 percent of breast cancer cases are diagnosed at later stages. The Susan G. Komen Community report states that only 76 percent of women between the ages of 50 -74, reported having had a mammogram within the last two years.

Not the worst in Ohio, in the area, roughly 30 percent of breast cancer cases are diagnosed at later stages. The Susan G. Komen Community report states that only 76 percent of women between the ages of 50 -74, reported having had a mammogram within the last two years.

Eye opener

Disproportionately affected by access to screening and critical care, according to the Ohio Department of Health,  a large disparity between cancer cases and mortality rates depends on race.  The American Cancer Society recently released cancer statistics for African Americans, showing large gaps in treatments, concluding “the causes of these inequalities are complex and reflect social and economic disparities more than biological differences.”  These gaps are being filled by local clinics, such as Planned Parenthood, who performed 747,607 breast exams nationally in 2010 and assisted in low-income women in receiving grants for mammograms.

While white women are slightly more likely to contract breast cancer, African-American women are more likely to die from it.  Eighty-seven percent of new cancer cases in Ohio were white, while 9.7 percent were black.  The five-year survival probability at all stages of breast cancer among white females was nearly 91 percent, while black females were closer to 77 percent. What causes such a drastic difference in cancer rates?

The devil is in the details

Public health guidelines provide some explanation, with the updated age for regular mammography screenings now set at 45, but African American women are more likely to be diagnosed with early-onset, prior to the age being recommended for these screenings.

Many other factors contribute to the disparity. The Komen report identifies intervention priorities for Lucas County as “black and medically underserved.” The Komen Foundation, aware of the gap in care locally, is seeking change.

Lack of health insurance often leads to delays in treatment and longer times between screenings. People who are uninsured or underinsured are more likely to avoid paying out of pocket for a breast ultrasound ($130), the mammogram ($80-$200,) and the multiple doctor visits ($95 per,) before a diagnosis is made. The Komen report also notes that the difference in time between diagnosis and treatment was longer for black women than it was for white women.

An apple a day…

Another important survival indicator is patient education and communication with the physician. Mistrust and dissatisfaction with medical treatment can create an obstacle to proper care. Studies show that African American women often do not receive the recommended standard of care. Compared to white women, African Americans received lower rates of radiation therapy and lower doses of chemotherapy.

Treatment education and following accurate family medical histories increase early detection and treatment of those at risk. With better collaborations between community health centers and larger facilities, accessible healthcare for those in need can help address this disparity.