For the past few weeks I’ve been following the ongoing feature published in The Washington Post called Black Women in America, which stems from a new nation-wide survey by the Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation that paints an interesting portrait of the lives of Black women. The survey includes interviews with more than 800 women and covers topics such as body image, personal finance, discrimination and overall happiness. Last week’s article, “Breast cancer toll among black women fed in part by fear, silence” really stopped me in my tracks.
According to the article, Black women are less likely than women of other ethnicities to get breast cancer, but are more likely to die from it. Death rates are 41 percent higher among African American women than among white women.
A separate study published last Wednesday in the International Journal of Cancer Epidemiology, Detection and Prevention compared mortality rates of black and white women in the nation’s 25 largest cities. The study found nearly five black women die per day from breast cancer.
The article provides the following factors that may contribute to these alarming rates:
Black women are getting their diagnoses at later stages
Black women are more susceptible to aggressive tumors
Lack of information about the importance of breast screening
Lack of access to high quality care
A sense of hopelessness and fear
As a communicator, I have to ask myself with so much information available on breast cancer why are so many Black women dying from it, and how can we turn this around?
One solution the article identified is the power of word of mouth marketing – in other words, simply hearing stories from other Black women who have had breast cancer would make the difference.
Many Black women interviewed said after they were diagnosed and shared their experience other women began revealing their experiences with the disease. The energy and collective strength that empowers women to boldly participate in breast cancer events, such as Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, is not being translated into the Black community. Messages about early detection and images of other women, who look like them, who had the disease and survived, are not being shared.
Black women are suffering in silence. And their silence is deadly.