Recognizing Disparities Among Women Facing Breast Cancer

By Rachel Koonse, LMFT and Miranda Johnson

October 22, 2020

The month of October marks an international monthly campaign to raise awareness around breast cancer. In recognition of this awareness month, this blog post will focus on the impact that cancer disparities have on communities of color and particularly on women facing breast cancer.


Breast cancer is one of the most common cancer diagnoses, with 1 in 8 women getting a diagnosis within their lifetime. Due to tremendous advances in treatment and diagnosis, the five year survival rate for breast cancer (including all stages and subtypes) is 90%. It is encouraging to know that this diagnosis continues to receive the awareness that it deserves, and that these advancements have resulted in positive change in the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of breast cancer.


In any discussion of cancer, it is important to acknowledge the impact of cancer health disparities. Cancer disparities occur when “certain groups … bear a disproportionate burden of cancer compared with other groups.” The National Cancer Institute (NCI) defines these disparities as “differences in cancer measures such as incidence (new cases), prevalence (all existing cases), mortality (deaths), morbidity (cancer-related health complications), survivorship, including quality of life after cancer treatment, burden of cancer or related health conditions, screening rates, and stage at diagnosis.”


In looking at breast cancer prevalence, white women have the highest incidence rates at 13%. However, looking deeper at breast cancer statistics reveals unnerving disparities. For example, a recent study found that black, American Indian or Alaskan Native, and Latina women were diagnosed with later stage cancers compared to their white counterparts. This is of particular importance when considering the fact that survival rates decrease with later stage diagnoses. The study also found that women of color are two to four times more likely to have no insurance compared to white women. Perhaps the most concerning statistic of all: mortality rates are 40% higher among black women versus white women.


An article from the National Center for Biotechnology Information titled “Assessing the Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Breast Cancer Mortality in the United States” attributes “this high mortality rate … to lack of medical coverage, barriers to early detection and screening, more advanced stage of disease at diagnosis among minorities, and unequal access to improvements in cancer treatment.”


Cancer health disparities intersect with so many other inequitable aspects of living in our society, including educational, housing, and income disparities, among others. As such, advocating within your community for more equitable access to education, housing, mental health services, and other necessary resources is a piece of addressing health disparities. Cancer Support Community also has a Cancer Policy Institute that “ensure[s] that the voices of cancer patients and their loved ones play a central role in federal and state legislative, regulatory, and executive policy making.” You can become involved in the CPI’s Grassroots Network by clicking here. You might also consider supporting the following organizations that help to increase research and awareness around health disparities, and push for policy change: American Hospital Association, Center for Health Equity Research & Promotion Collaborations, FamiliesUSA, National Quality Forum, Prevention Institute, The Cross Cultural Health Care Program, and The Urban Institute.


Here at Cancer Support Community Pasadena, we are committed to supporting everyone who is affected by the very real and painful impacts of cancer health disparities.


Whether you are facing cancer yourself or are a survivor or a loved one of someone with cancer, we invite you to fill out a New Member Form and begin the process of learning more about the different programming that we offer here. Within this virtual world, we are able to provide a space for you where you can talk about the impact that cancer has had upon your life. You also have the opportunity to be surrounded by other people in our community that provide solidarity and understanding.


Works Cited


Cancer Disparities, National Cancer Institute. Retrieved from https://www.cancer.gov/about- cancer/understanding/disparities.


Davis, E. (2020, January 9). Racial Disparities Possible in Breast Cancer Diagnosis. Retrieved October 22, 2020, from https://www.usnews.com/news/healthiest-communities/articles/2020-01-09/study-finds-racial-disparities-with-breast-cancer-diagnosis.


Miller June 02, K., & =, =. (2020, June 02). Why People of Privilege Need to Fight Hardest for Health Equity. Retrieved October 22, 2020, from https://www.health.com/mind-body/what-are-health-disparities.


Roy, MD, MPH, L. (2020, October 14). Black Women And Breast Cancer: Mary J. Blige EmPOWERs Survival. Retrieved October 22, 2020, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/lipiroy/2020/10/14/black-women-and-breast-cancer-mary-j-blige-empowers-survival/.


Yedjou, C., Tchounwou, P., Payton, M., Miele, L., Fonseca, D., Lowe, L., and Alo, R. (2017, May 5). Assessing the Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Breast Cancer Mortality in the United States. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5451937/.

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