Black women are dying of breast cancer at a much more aggressive rate than white women, according to a study from the American Cancer Society, and previous studies from the Centers for Disease Control find that disparities in healthcare could be to blame.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in Black women, and while they have a 7% lower risk of a cancer diagnosis than white women, Black women have a 13% higher risk of cancer death, according to the American Cancer Society.
Also, despite the fact that Black women have slightly lower incidence rates for breast and uterine corpus cancers than white women, Black women have death rates for these cancers that are a whopping 41% and 98% higher, respectively, than white women.
The CDC report, Vital Signs: Racial Disparities in Breast Cancer Severity, finds that the issue goes beyond genetics: Equity in healthcare access and the quality of that care are major contributors to breast-cancer prognoses.
“Breast-cancer death rates have been declining among U.S. women since 1990 because of early detection and advances in treatment; however, all racial groups have not benefited equally,” reads the report. “Black women experience inequities in breast-cancer screening, follow-up, and treatment after diagnosis, leading to greater mortality.”
The CDC also found that American Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/AN) have higher rates of cancer and mortality than their white counterparts:
- The rate of getting breast cancer was higher in AI/AN women compared to non-Hispanic white women in Alaska (26%) and the Southern Plains (30%).
- The rate of getting cervical (69%), lung (6%), colorectal (37%), kidney (85%), liver (three times higher), and stomach cancers (two times higher) was higher among AI/AN women compared to non-Hispanic white women.
Eliminating Racial Disparities in Healthcare
“It’s a complex problem, but there are clearly avoidable components of this that we can address and resolve—the issues related to healthcare quality,” Dr. Marcus Plescia, former Director of the Division of Cancer Prevention and Control at the CDC and one of the report’s authors, told The New York Times. “It’s time to step forward and say that this disparity is unacceptable.”
University Hospitals CEO Thomas Zenty recently discussed the impact of diversity management and new healthcare reform laws with Fair360, formerly DiversityInc Chairman Luke Visconti, noting the growing need for hospitals and other providers to take a proactive approach to eliminating racial gaps in healthcare coverage. University Hospitals, based in Cleveland, was one of Fair360, formerly DiversityInc’s Top 5 Hospital Systems.
“Many studies have shown that there is a direct correlation between people of diverse backgrounds being willing to seek care and knowing that people who look like them will actually be providing that care. So the intersection between diversity and disparities is rather significant,” explains Zenty in the video below. “We want to make certain that we’re doing everything that we can to make sure that people of color will be able to work in our organization, hold positions of leadership—caregivers, clinicians and support staff.”
Related Article: Q&A with University Hospitals CEO Thomas Zenty
Former Eli Lilly and Company Chairman, President and CEO John Lechleiter, who also was interviewed, agrees. He notes that disparities in healthcare have become a global issue—and it’s up to industry corporations and care providers to take the lead in eliminating healthcare disparities.
“The importance of diversity as an underpinning of our business success today and for the future has become more clear to me and more evident,” he says. “Our business is shifting in terms of serving different populations and different segments of different populations, both here in the U.S. and in emerging markets. It’s brought me and the whole company a greater awareness of how different we are with respect to the way in which medicine is practiced, the way in which treatment is sought, the way in which people understand disease and approach therapy.”