If you’re black, female and a Chicagoan, you’re far more likely to die of breast cancer than if you’re black, female and, say, a New Yorker. What’s worse, a black woman who lives in Chicago who has breast cancer is 68 percent more likely to die of the disease than a white woman who lives in Chicago.
That disparity is not as dire to the black New Yorker, who is only 11 percent more likely to die of breast cancer than is a white New Yorker. Chicago’s city, county and state health officials, along with several advocacy groups, have come together and formed a task force to address the problem.
The Metropolitan Chicago Breast Cancer Task Force issued a call for action last Wednesday at Rush Medical Center to address the widening gap of breast cancer mortality rates between whites and blacks.
The comparison to New York has at least one local health official asking a troubling question: “Are the chromosomes of black women in Chicago different than the chromosomes of the black women in New York?”
Steve Whitman, director of Sinai Urban Health Institute in Chicago asked that question, adding, “It’s not the woman, but the system, that’s broken,”
Research presented by the task force shows black women are nearly twice as likely to die from breast cancer as white women.
The disparity has been steadily increasing since 1995 despite advances in health care over the past 23 years, advances that have significantly cut mortality rates for whites.
“Whether one considers this de facto racism or just plain bad care, the facts speak for themselves,” said David Ansell, chief medical officer at Rush Medical Center.
Possible reasons for the discrepancy, including black women’s biology, genetics and psychology, were assessed in compiling the report’s recommendations.
However, the task force found these issues were not at fault but rather women’s lack of access to quality health care.
Whitman showed a graph that indicates in 2003, the disparity in New York was far less than that in Chicago. In Chicago, blacks had a 68 percent higher mortality rate than whites, compared to 14 percent for the same year in New York.
The task force outlined 37 recommendations to be addressed at state and city levels to affect the statistics.
Access and cost, education and outreach, capacity, and quality of mammography were specifically outlined. Other recommendations cited included:
The group wants costs removed so all women in Illinois can have access to screening and treatment, including fully funding the Illinois breast and cervical cancer screening program, the Stand Against Cancer program, and adequately funding the Cook County Bureau of Health Services.
Establish a culturally-relevant, community and outreach program to better address the black community, as well as create a targeted media campaign to increase cancer awareness.
To better serve those who are getting regular checks, as well as those who live in poorer areas, the task force wants to improve the quality of mammography screening and breast cancer treatment by creating a metropolitan Chicago breast cancer consortium to identify, measure and share quality measures.
To help pay for these initiatives, Avon Foundation Breast Cancer Crusade, announced that Avon is offering up to $4 million each year for the next three years as mini fellowships to health care professionals who outline proposals to bring change.
The task force added that while its research specifically addressed the black community, Latino women face many of the same barriers. The recommendations presented were to benefit all women of color, officials said.