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Breast Cancer in African American Women: A Brief Overview

A man dies when he refuses to stand up for that which is right. A man dies when he refuses to stand up for justice. A man dies when he refuses to take a stand for that which is true. – Martin Luther King, Jr. *

African American populations are being diagnosed with breast cancer at higher rates than previous years, but why? What can we do to make sure the number of African American women and men dying from breast cancer decreases? What will it take to find a cure?

New Statistics

In 2016, newly diagnosed breast cancer cases among African American women reached 30,700**. It was also the second leading cause of cancer deaths, coming in only second to lung cancer.

While the overall rate of 1 in 8 women being diagnosed is currently on par with other White and Hispanic women, many believe that the rise in breast cancer diagnosis within the African American community is more closely related to the increased access to screening and diagnostics through the Affordable Healthcare Act. This is just one reason, why advocacy for the continuance of diagnostic programs and community health centers that provide increased access to treatment in areas where populations are under-served is so critical.

Access to Diagnostic Tools

Rates of detection within the African American community are increasing, but one thing still remains the same: African American women are still being diagnosed more frequently at later stages (due to previous lack of access) and at a greater rate with triple negative breast cancer than any other group. It’s important that increased research and clinical trials focus on why triple negative factors are effecting the community at higher rates, to understand if genetic or other unknown factors could be leading to this variance.

Metastatically Speaking

Metastatically speaking, current numbers and rates of mortality among African American women are on par with other ethnicities. 30% of early diagnosed patients will progress or recur to Stage 4, Metastatic Breast Cancer with a median survival rate of 18-36 months and a yearly mortality rate exceeding 40,000 deaths per year.

Research and Access for All

One thing remains certain, greater research is needed across the board for all women and men effected by breast cancer. We are in this together. Let us not forget to continue to advocate for greater access to all, regardless of race, age, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, or anything else that divides us or leads to a lack of access to care and resources.

WE are one.

#OneDiseaseBC

Are you one of our readers who would like to share your story about accessing services as a minority? Please see the Submissions section to learn how to share your story!


Note: Current data for African American males was not included in this article due to lack of current data.

Works Consulted

*King, Jr., Martin Luther. Bloody Sunday Sermon. Selma, AL: Brown Chapel Church, March 7, 1965

** American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts and Figures for African Americans 2016-2018. Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society, 2016.

*** https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/breast/statistics/race.htm

**** metavivor.org

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  • Metastatic 30 something trying to live my life to the fullest and advocate for a cure.

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