(CBS Newspath) – October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and while the disease kills tens of thousands of women in the U.S. every year, Black women face a greater risk of dying from breast cancer.
“While Black women are slightly less likely to be diagnosed with a breast cancer compared to their White counterpart, they’re 40% more likely to die,” says Dr. Vivian J. Bea, a surgical oncologist at NewYork- Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital.
Black women are often diagnosed with breast cancer at a more advanced stage. Dr. Bea says the disparity is seen for all socioeconomic backgrounds, so studying genetics and biology of breast cancer is critical. “Back in the day, we sort of attributed it a lot to access to care, and certainly access to care plays a role, but we now know that there are many reasons and many causes and a lot of research is underway to address those causes,” Dr. Bea says.
Doctors are concerned that the pandemic will widen the gap as many women are delaying screening. “Women are now even more afraid of going to get a mammogram for example, or maybe they lost their insurance,” Dr. Bea says. She encourages all women to talk to their doctors about when to start screening.
It’s something Tracy Tomer wishes she had done earlier. The 53-year-old grandmother is being treated for stage 3 breast cancer. She discovered a lump in September 2019. She says she tried to forget about it, and she put off having her first mammogram for nearly two and a half months. “I cried because I knew something was wrong,” Tomer says.
She’s undergoing radiation after a mastectomy and chemotherapy, and she is not giving up. “I’m also fighting for my life in general. I have grandkids that I want to see grow up,” Tomer says.
Black women also tend to be diagnosed with a very aggressive type of breast cancer called triple-negative, which also has a worse prognosis.