One of Chicago’s top goals in the fight against breast cancer is to eliminate ethnic and racial disparities in detecting and treating the disease.
Black women are 50 percent likelier to die of breast cancer due to lack of screening and, often, lack of insurance, according to the Chicago Department of Public Health. As national Breast Cancer Awareness Month wraps up, the Chicago department is stressing the importance of prevention as part of the Healthy Chicago agenda. The department joins forces with advocates and agencies to improve breast health implementation and funding.
Free mammogram services were offered this month for women ages 40-64 who are either underinsured or have no insurance at all. The department conducted screenings all month long at different locations throughout the city.
“While advances in cancer research, detection and treatment have contributed to a decrease in disease and mortality, cancer remains the second leading cause of death in Chicago and the United States,” said Quenjana Adams, a spokesperson for the Chicago health department.
“Possible explanations for the disparities in breast cancer outcomes in Chicago include differential access to mammograms, differential quality of mammograms and differential access to quality care,” Adams said.
The Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University hosted numerous events this month to raise awareness and offer support. Events such as “Moving Forward with Metastatic Breast Cancer” and “Knocking Out Breast Cancer” raised money and offered current and post-cancer patients with a place to call their own.
The Lurie Center hosted a risk reduction program at Northwestern this month to spread prevention awareness. Sharon Markman, director of public affairs and communications for the Lurie Cancer Center had a hand in planning many of these events.
“The Lurie Cancer Center takes responsibility for raising public awareness on the importance of early detection, state of the art treatment options, research initiatives and the need for additional funding to support breast cancer, and all cancers,” Markman said.
According to an annual report by the department, in Cook County, the rates for identifying breast cancer are not drastically different based on race. Health Department spokesperson Adams, noted, however, that breast cancer rates of dying in Chicago are different.
“They are 50 percent higher in black women compared to white women,” Adams said.
According to the American Cancer Society, there are approximately 39,510 breast cancer related deaths in 2012. Among strategies the department is carrying out to try and eliminate the disparities: increasing a person’s ability to receive care.
“Making changes to our own system and the overall system in general will increase access to care,” Adams said.
The department is also aiming to increase awareness through an advisory group of breast cancer survivors. One of the projects is reaching out to 4,000 women on Medicaid that have not yet had a breast exam.
“We continue to conduct breast cancer surveillance in Chicago to identify where the disparities are prominent,” Adams said.