Not an equal opportunity disease

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 26, 2004

October is breast cancer awareness month nationally and while the overall statistic, that the overall deaths from breast cancer are falling, is a good sign, the disparity of survival rates between Caucasian women and African American women is alarming.

According to the American Cancer Society, nearly 97 percent of white women who develop breast cancer will survive the disease, while only 79 percent of the black women will.

While there is no concrete evidence to indicate why there is such a disparity in the survival rates, most experts believe it is due to the lack of early detection. To put it simply, many black women do not have access to, or will not take advantage of, an adequate level of healthcare that allows them to seek early detection initiatives, such as mammograms to spot the disease early enough to do something about it.

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According the ACS more than 216,000 women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004. There will also be about 40,000 women who will die this year from breast cancer with African American women more likely to die due to their cancer not being diagnosed until it is at an advanced stage when it's harder to treat and cure.

What this leads us to believe is that our medical community needs to put programs in place that reach out to the African American community that educates them on the dangers of breast cancer and emphasizes the mortality rates should they not seek preventative treatment and early diagnosis.

The frightening part of this disease is its ability to strike with no family history. Studies show that only 1-5 percent of breast cancer is hereditary. This emphasizes the need for women to visit their physician for annual mammograms, especially as they age.

While only 18 percent of breast cancer is diagnosed among women under 40 years of age, the ACS suggests that women have annual mammograms once they turn 40 years of age, thereby leading to early detection and an aggressive treatment agenda to attempt to eradicate the disease.

While we agree the drop in deaths among those diagnosed with breast cancer is encouraging, we need to continue to keep this issue top of mind for future generations.