The Daily Tar Heel
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The Daily Tar Heel

Black women are dying of breast cancer at a rate higher than any other racial group.

According to the American Cancer Society, the five-year survival rate of African-American women is 78 percent, in comparison to the survival rate of white women, which is 90 percent. Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer contracted by African-American women.

During October, National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, it’s important to call attention to not only general research, preventive practices and cancer care, but also to the disparities that exist for black women who confront this deadly disease.

Black women are at higher risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer at a later stage with a more aggressive form of the disease in comparison to other racial groups. Genetic differences might leave black women at particular risk of developing triple-negative cancers. This subtype of breast cancer is more aggressive and associated with shorter survival rates.

Low socioeconomic status and limited access to health care affect a woman’s chance of being screened. Financial factors that impede a woman’s access to mammograms — which are vital to breast cancer detection — are obstacles that need to be addressed in order to see a real reduction in the disparity in the survival rates of black women with breast cancer. Cancer screenings should be readily available to all women to ensure that if cancerous tumors exist, they are caught early.

Screening methods must also improve, and strides must be made in detection technology. Black women tend to have denser breasts than white women, which can make mammogram results more difficult to decipher.

This year, 226,870 women are expected to be diagnosed with breast cancer in the United States. More than 7,000 of those women will reside in North Carolina, a state that’s almost a quarter African-American. It’s important that resources exist in this state for African-American women who need specialized breast cancer preventive care, treatment and support.

Groups like the Triangle chapter of the national African-American breast cancer survivors organization Sisters Network, do their part to offer guidance, programming and moral support for black women. But even more can be done to eliminate the survival gap that exists between black and white women with breast cancer.

In addition to utilizing preventive measures such as self-examination, regular mammograms, limited alcohol intake, balanced diet and exercise, black women must become staunch advocates for their own health care. Women should take time to become informed about breast cancer detection, treatment and support.

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