Black women face troubling discrepancies when it comes to breast cancer diagnoses and outcomes, but locals and organizations like Susan G. Komen are working to push back against those statistics.
“Black women in America are dying from breast cancer at unacceptable rates and are more than 40 percent more likely to die from breast cancer than white women,” said Kim Schmulowitz, communications and marketing director for Susan G. Komen Maryland. “In communities across the United States, black women are diagnosed at a younger age, and at later stages and with more aggressive forms of the disease. When they’re diagnosed at a later stage, then that limits the treatment options.”
Even though black women have a higher mortality rate, they are diagnosed at about the same rates as white women, Schmulowitz said.
The reasons behind this statistic aren’t currently proven, but there are some ideas as to why this came to be.
“We are suspecting that there are many reasons ranging from barriers to health care, socioeconomic issues, as well as biological and cultural beliefs," Schmulowitz said. "There is evidence in the research that the following factors contribute to differences in survival, and that includes differences in tumor biology and tumor genetics prevalence of risk factors, health behaviors, and later stage of breast cancer diagnosis.”
Breast cancer survivor Ingrid Woods of Eldersburg has helped young women with breast cancer since her own battle with the disease.
Woods, who is black, said that because she is a breast cancer survivor people ask her for advice, and she offers her time to help them — not just with advice but with support by accompanying other women to doctor appointments after they’ve been diagnosed.
“I’ll be glad to give them either advice or things that I’ve gone through, also referral information from my doctor," she said. "So, it’s great to be a resource for other women because you have gone through the same thing yourself.”
One way Susan G. Komen has been trying to help black women fight against the racial discrepancies in breast cancer statistics is through its Know Your Girls campaign.
“A study field by the Ad Council found that 92 percent of black women agree that breast health is important. Yet only 25 percent have recently discussed breast health with their family, friends or colleagues, and only about 17 percent have taken steps to understand their risk for breast cancer,” Schmulowitz said. “So there’s a little bit of a disconnect there, and that’s why Komen and the Ad Council started this program last year called Know Your Girls, which aims to educate and inspire black women to take charge of their breast health and understand their breast cancer risk by giving them information and tools that can promote early detection in that community. Therefore, when you get breast cancer detected earlier, it’s much more likely to be treated successfully and therefore save lives.”
Know Your Girls is part of a bigger goal by Susan G. Komen to reduce the current number of breast cancer deaths by 50 percent by 2026.
“The Know Your Girls campaign introduces breast cancer education through a celebration of the powerful sisterhood between black women,” Lisa Sherman, president and CEO of the Ad Council, said in a news release. “Instead of focusing on fear, the campaign provides tools and information that can help black women feel ownership around their breast health and encourages the sharing of those resources and messages with the women who support them throughout their lives."
Woods was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer in 2016, then she fought through four rounds of chemotherapy, a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. Woods has now been cancer free for about three years. She works for Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., which she thanks for supporting her during her battle by allowing her time off for doctor’s appointments and treatments.
Woods also attributes the outcome of her battle against breast cancer in part to support from her doctor and her husband.
“I’m very blessed to have a very supportive husband, he’s been right there with me all along," she said. “I’ve had a great cooperation from my job; I work for BGE, I’ve been there for 32 years and I’ve got great support from the top down."
Woods is also happy to advocate and support Susan G. Komen. In 2018, Woods began a race team, “Woods Warriors,” and has raised over $6,000 for Susan G. Komen.
“I was a very serious advocate for Susan G. Komen because I was really impressed with the work that they do and they have done," Woods said. “I had about 20 people on my team and we raised thousands of dollars and it was great.”