ATLANTA - A new study reveals an alarming trend: Black women are dying of breast cancer at much higher rates than White women.
Researchers from the Sinai Urban Health Institute, working with the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, studied data from the 50 largest U.S. cities from 2005 to 2014.
They found that in 42 out of 43 of the cities included in the study, Black women were dying of breast cancer at higher rates than White women.
In Atlanta, the disparity was most startling. The mortality rate for Black women was 44%. For White women, it was just over 20%.
It's a trend emerging at The AVON Comprehensive Breast Center at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, where Marie Jackson recently came in for a checkup.
At 65, she is both excited and unnerved to be finally free of breast cancer after two long, grueling years.
"I was devastated when I found out because I said, ‘Oh, not me!’" Jackson remembers.
A retired nurse, Jackson put off getting a mammogram for 5 years because she felt it was too painful.
She did perform monthly breast self-exams.
But, when she felt a small lump under her arm, she waited, because she had no family history of breast cancer.
"Because the myth was it was hereditary,” says Jackson. “And nobody in my family had it, so I didn't think I had it."
Dr. Sheryl Gabram, Director of the AVON Comprehensive Breast Center, says too many Black women are being diagnosed late in the game, when their cancer is already well-established, and harder to treat.
"They said I was at stage 3, that was my first diagnosis. I was stage 3,” says Marie Jackson.
Dr Gabram believes there are several factors at play.
Access to care is still a big challenge for many African American women, and so is the cost of cancer care, she says.
"I think there is a lot fear, still, of being diagnosed with breast cancer, and an it be treated,” Dr. Gabram says. “Can it be successfully treated? What will it cost? There are some real financial issues that are patients are concerned about."
Dr. Gabram thinks the economic downturn has hit African American women especially hard in Atlanta.
90% of the patients of the AVON Breast Center are Black, and many are the only provider for their families, Gabram says.
She also believes there is lingering confusion about when women should begin getting screened for breast cancer. Some experts say they can wait until 50, others say 40 is a safer age to begin getting a mammogram.
Dr. Gabram recommends getting a baseline mammogram at 40, and getting one earlier if you have a family history of breast cancer.
She is convinced, if they can get women diagnosed earlier, they can save lives. Gabram says they’re proving that every day in her center.
"It is all about dispelling the myths, dispelling the fears, getting women to come in,” she says. “ And, honestly, for us health care providers, (we have to) educate women. There are resources out there, where we can provide them with help, financial help.”