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Fear's big role in breast cancer disparity
The difference in mortality began to emerge in the early 1980s. By 2007, the American Cancer Society found that, even though death rates for both groups were going down, the rate was 41 percent higher among African-American women.
Some health-care professionals and advocates contend that the disparate mortality rates argue for a more urgent effort to reach more black women.
They are frustrated that, with all of the information available about the importance of early detection and treatment, the statistics remain so dire.
In a survey focusing on African-American women by The Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation, 75 percent of black women rated their health as good or excellent, about the same percentage as white women, black men and white men.
Health data, however, tell a different story. Across the country, women of color report higher rates of disease and health problems, are more likely to be uninsured and have had fewer doctor visits for preventive care. A 2009 Kaiser study noted "consistently higher rates of health challenges among black women, ranging from poor health status to chronic illness to obesity and cancer deaths."
For breast cancer in particular, experts cite some additional factors: Black women often get their diagnoses at later stages and appear to be more susceptible to aggressive tumors. They also have a higher rate than white women of a diagnosis before age 40.
Regina Hampton, a surgeon who works with the Capital Breast Care Center in the District of Columbia, which serves uninsured women, said, "a lot of women come in at later stages . . . and what I hear from my patients is they're all afraid."
Besides the fear that most women have that the disease will rob them of femininity or sexuality, 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.
Breast cancer, she said, "is the most treatable female cancer that we have. I think one of the challenges is getting people to realize that the survival rates are very good for breast cancer if you present early. I think that message has not resonated through our community."
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