You may cherish — or resent — all the pink that comes with the month of October, as it is breast cancer awareness month. However, even as advances in medicine have improved the early detection and survival rates, breast cancer is still the number two killer of women. (Number one is actually heart attacks, — you can read more about how women are under-diagnosed because of differences in symptoms here.)
Over 40,000 people are expected to die this year from breast cancer, out of over 250,000 expected cases of invasive breast cancer.
But Atlanta faces some particularly bad news on that front.
A new study reveals that nationally, black women continue to die from breast cancer at significantly higher rates than their white counterparts. Atlanta leads the way as the city with the largest — and increasing — black-white disparity in death rates, among the fifty cities studied. In fact, black women in Atlanta are more than twice as likely to die from breast cancer as white women. Twice as likely.
Cities like Memphis, Philadelphia and Boston all had decreasing disparities, which researcher Dr. Marc S. Hurlbert said points to the fact that “there is much we can learn from those that are doing well.”
While the foundations that funded the studies were too nice to say this in their press releases, this also means that a city like Atlanta — where the disparity increased — has some real problems to address in terms of how people are able to access and utilize health care.
Overall, Georgia ranks seventh in the nation for breast cancer death rates, even though we are thirtieth in the nation for incidents of breast cancer. So you’re a lot less likely to get breast cancer if you live here, but a lot more likely to die of it if you do.
Maybe it’s the lack of access to healthcare, in part because of this state’s refusal to expand Medicaid. Maybe it’s the environmental toxins communities like Shell Bluff — a majority black community — have been fighting for decades. Maybe it’s the pervasive racism in medicine, leaving people of color to receive substandard care.
The press release for the study concludes, “there is a critical need to increase access to breast cancer screening and treatment services for African American women.”
In 2015, the state Senate actually commissioned a study committee on women’s health, and breast cancer is mentioned a handful of times, racially disparities aren’t mentioned at all, and no legislation seems to have been produced from the studying the study committee did.
Perhaps next year they’ll get around to this important issue.