Though the breast cancer death rate has significantly decreased over the past three decades, Black women continue to be more likely to die from the disease, a new American Cancer Society report found.
According to the study, the U.S. death rate dropped by 43 percent from 1989 to 2020, which translated to 460,000 fewer breast cancer deaths within the three decades.
When analyzing race, the data revealed that Black women were less likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer compared to their white counterparts, but the death rate was 40 percent higher in Black women overall.
“Death rates are declining in Black women, just like they are in almost every other group, but we’re still seeing the same gap,” Rebecca Siegel, senior author of the report, told CNN.
“The evidence is consistent that Black women receive short shrift in the health care system at every point of the breast cancer care continuum from lower quality mammography to delays between the time of diagnosis and the beginning of treatment to poor quality treatment when they are diagnosed,” Siegel said. “The take-home message is that we really need to take a hard look at how we’re treating Black women differently.”
Dr. Samuel Cykert, a professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine in Chapel Hill, told CNN that the ongoing disproportionate death rate wasn't surprising as someone who has conducted research on racial disparities in cancer treatment.
“The fact that the gap is still there doesn’t surprise me because people haven’t focused on it to do something about it,” Cykert said.
In order to close the gap, Cykert said Black women need to be afforded the same access to hospitals, breast cancer screenings, and adequate treatments as their white counterparts.
“You really need two things. You need a system change that acknowledges that there are disparities and care and outcomes,” Cykert said.
“You also need community involvement so that individual health systems understand what the barriers are for their community. Plus, there also needs to be an accountability,” he said, suggesting that “healthcare systems should use their digital data to look at treatment progress for all their patients in real time, especially disadvantaged groups, and build systems to keep engaging folks to complete all care.”