African American Women and Breast Cancer

Posted by Admin on June 30, 2008
I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to see my children grow up and my grandchild grow, you get this really scary feeling inside, says Rosamond Stallings. When 45 year old Rosamond Stallings was diagnosed with breast cancer 2 years ago, doctors urged her to immediately have a mastectomy. They found like six malignant tumors, says Rosamond. Recent studies have shown that 30 percent or more of breast cancer patients fail to receive complete treatment, and that African American women are as much as 10 percent less likely than white women to receive optimal therapy. But now, supported by a $10 million grant from the Department of Defense, a study, led by a team of doctors at Columbia University Medical Center, will look at possible reasons for the disparity.

“We know that from lots of studies that have been published that African American women have tumors that tend to be more aggressive and tend to be estrogen receptive negative and tumors that don’t express estrogen, the hormone estrogen tends to be less responsive to treatment,” says Dr. Kathie-Ann P. Joseph of New York Presbyterian Columbia University Medical Center.

Economics is also playing a key role in survival rates. “The other reason we believe why the African American woman does poorly is socio-economic factors and factors that lead into a woman not being able to complete their treatment or even get detected in the first place, so if a woman is uninsured or is poor and can’t get to the doctor sooner and having routine mammograms, their cancers are going to be detected at a more advanced stage,” explains Dr. Joseph.

The study will also examine the lack of referrals to medical oncologists, miscommunication and cultural differences between patients and physicians, physical tolerance of therapy and variations in the metabolism of chemotherapy. “African American women have the highest rate of breast cancer in women under the age of fifty than any other group and clearly waiting till the age of forty to start screening mammograms is not working. We need to focus our energies on other means of detection that can be more reliable than mammograms.

It is important that not only do women know their family history so they can go for genetic testing, but they also have to ask their doctors to refer them for genetic testing and counseling,” says Dr. Joseph. Rosamond says she owes her second chance at life to a mammogram. “I have to see my two girls when they graduate from high school, junior high school. I want to be in that audience so when they look out they see their mother or grandmother and I don’t want my life lost by this cancer,” says Rosamond.