New Initiative Aims to Lower Breast Cancer Deaths Among Black Women

Black women are more likely to die from the cancer, according to findings by the Susan G. Komen foundation

A new initiative was rolled out Wednesday to help decrease breast cancer among African American women, who are more likely to die from the disease than Caucasian women in Los Angeles and nationwide.

Susan G. Komen California kicked off the program to raise awareness about the higher mortality rate among black women -- despite the fact that Caucasian women are more likely to contract the cancer.

African American women in Los Angeles are 70 percent more likely to die from breast cancer, a rate that far exceeds the nationwide average of 41 percent, according to the organization.

“It has to be a team effort, a community effort, to make changes in the black community,” said Dr. Robina Smith, a breast surgeon at St. Jude Medical Center.

At the time of the Susan G. Komen's 1982 creation, the breast cancer mortality rate was the same for black women and white women.

"I had one young lady who said she was just afraid to go have a mammogram because the machines would hurt," survivor Jackie Coco said. "I said, ‘Well sometimes you get your heart broken too and that hurts.'"

Access to care and lack of follow-up care are major contributing factors to the higher mortality rate in black women, according to the organization. Race is not a risk factor for breast cancer, but rates differ among ethnic groups.

A mobile mammogram screening service vehicle in Los Angeles communities may help more women detect breast cancer.

“Let's say the closest place to get treatment is Pasadena for me with my Affordable Care Act,” Smith said. “To go get treated and I live in Inglewood, and I don't have a car, there's no bus, no convenient way of getting there.”

Susan G. Komen California attributes the trend to social, cultural, financial and geographic barriers and plans to examine the issues deterring black women from getting proper care as part of its new two-year Circle of Promise statewide initiative.

As ambassadors for the Susan G. Komen organization, survivors are committed to spreading the word about treatment.

“I am a nine-year breast cancer survivor, and at the time, I didn't know where to go or who to talk to regarding my issue or what I had,” Coco said.

For black women diagnosed between 2002 and 2008, they were 78 percent less likely to survive the cancer, compared to white women who had a 90 percent survival rate, according to the organization.

Women who lack health care coverage are 30 to 50 percent more likely to die from the cancer and less likely to receive breast-conserving surgery.

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