This month in Memphis, Tennessee, the awareness campaign SisterPact wants to get you thinking about breasts and breast health. And more specifically, about the alarming disparity that exists in the United States. While white women are more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer, black women are more likely to die from the disease. These findings are echoed across the United States and have jolted the breast cancer community.
According to the recent study published by Sinai Urban Health Institute and the Avon Foundation for Women, Memphis is the city with the greatest black:white disparity in breast cancer mortality rates, where the odds for black women with breast cancer to die are more than double that of white women with breast cancer. While Memphis ranked the worst in terms of disparity, other U.S. cities at the bottom of the list include Los Angeles, Wichita, Houston, Boston, Denver, Chicago, Phoenix, Dallas and Indianapolis.
SisterPact was launched in response to this crisis and aims to address social and financial issues as a way to bridge this alarming divide. The PSA campaign kicked off on August 10th, and is being promoted on television, radio and various other advertising mediums (like buses, billboards and direct mail). A citywide SisterPact health fair will also be held Saturday, August 29th, from 11:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. at the Kroc Center. There will be speakers including Carolyn Ricci, Program Director of the Avon Foundation Breast Cancer Crusade, nearly two dozen booths staffed by experts offering educational materials, and free mammograms provided by the Baptist Mammovan.
Across the country, 1,710 black women — approximately five per day — die each year, largely due to lack of access to screening, quality of the screening process, access to treatment and quality of treatment. And not only is there a racial disparity, but in many cities, it is a widening one.
Roughly 20 years ago, black and white women faced about the same mortality risk from breast cancer in most cities. However, beginning in 1990, the death rate among white women began to drop significantly in many cities, while death rates among black women dropped only slightly.
Marc Hurlbert, Executive Director of the Avon Breast Cancer Crusade and the study’s co-author, described what’s happening: “Technological advances related to screening and treatment became available in the 1990s and black women, who are disproportionately poor and un- or under-insured, were less able to obtain access to these advances.” Additional barriers in the community include a fear of medical institutions, stigma surrounding breast cancer and a lack of education regarding prevention and survivorship. Lack of insurance, transportation and childcare are compounded by more pressing priorities that lead disadvantaged women to place breast health and preventative care on the backburner. “There are also some biological factors such as the type of breast cancer, but our data suggest access is the dominant factor.”
For ongoing support in Memphis, the city has also developed an educational website and call center to help people identify and contact screening resources locally. Additionally, women in Memphis and across the country can utilize the Avon Foundation for Women Breast Health Outreach Program to locate resources in their communities. Similarly, the CDC also provides educational resources and free or low-cost mammograms for women in the United States.
Though change is slow and these disparities are troubling, community and city-based initiatives like SisterPact that are dedicated to responding and addressing these barriers to care give us hope for a brighter future ahead.
Through 2014, Avon global philanthropy, led by the Avon Foundation, has donated nearly $1 billion in more than 50 countries for causes most important to women. Today, Avon philanthropy focuses on funding breast cancer research and access to care through the Avon Breast Cancer Crusade, and efforts to reduce domestic and gender violence through its Speak Out Against Domestic Violence program. Visit www.avonfoundation.org for more information.
For more information on breast cancer and breast health, visit All for the Breast.