Robin Roberts reports on importance of early detection for black women with breast cancer The ‘Good Morning America’ anchor and cancer survivor teamed up with WebMD to tell stories of survival

In 2007, Good Morning America anchor Robin Roberts conducted a self-exam of her breast after reporting on a friend who had died of cancer.

“It all started a few weeks ago,” she wrote in an email that was shared with the world. “We had gotten the news that our dear colleague and friend Joel Siegel had passed away and we began preparing for our special tribute show for him. I did a piece about Joel’s courageous battle with cancer, reporting on the way my friend had lived his life and been such a successful advocate for the importance of early cancer screenings.”

She found a lump.

Roberts had a biopsy, then surgery, and by January 2008 she’d gone through eight chemotherapy treatments and six weeks of radiation. She later learned she had myelodysplastic syndrome, which is “a disease of the blood and bone marrow and was once known as preleukemia,” Roberts said in a new message posted on the ABC News website.

In 2012, she received a bone marrow transplant from her sister.

Now she has teamed up with the online human health and wellness publication WebMD to help tell stories of early detection, support and bravery. Advanced Breast Cancer: Courage, Comfort and Care with Robin Roberts, a five-part video series, was released in August. The series tells the stories of women with advanced breast cancer, “plus the families and friends who provide encouragement and support, and includes insights from medical experts leading the charge to combat the disease,” WebMD announced.

In one episode, Roberts looks at the effects of breast cancer in the African-American community and promotes the benefits of early detection.

She introduces Felicia Johnson, a Philadelphia woman and two-time cancer survivor who said the disease also attacked her maternal grandmother, her sister and her first cousin. Including Johnson, 11 women over three generations in her family have been diagnosed with cancer.

“It seems like our list just goes on and on,” Johnson says in the episode.

“Felicia’s connection to breast cancer is not unusual,” Roberts reports. “Death rates from breast cancer are higher in the African-American community, and research shows that African-American women are now being diagnosed with breast cancer more frequently.”

Roberts also introduces Lisa Newman, a surgical oncologist and director of the Breast Oncology Program for the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit. Newman says many black women are not getting preventive treatment, so she spends a lot of her time advocating for early detection.

“Every opportunity to get the message out to African-American women regarding breast cancer screening and early detection is critical,” Newman says.

“We completed several series for WebMD on a variety of health subjects, but this series represented a chance for us to take a deep look at the many facets of breast cancer treatment and survivorship,” Roberts told Essence in August.

“From personal experience with the disease, I know there’s a lot of fear associated with breast cancer, especially when a patient is first diagnosed and when the disease has already reached an advanced stage — I also felt the series could help people learn how to better cope with the fear and anxiety, and offer them hope for their future.”

Many minorities still don’t participate in clinical trials, but changing the narrative can save lives Researchers and patients can join forces to change the perception and the numbers

ESPN’s 2017 V Week runs through Dec. 8. During the fundraiser for cancer research, The Undefeated is telling stories about early detection, clinical trial studies and research in minority communities. ESPN hopes to raise funds and awareness about the important cause championed by our friend, coach Jim Valvano. One hundred percent of all cash donations go directly to cancer research. Donate here today.


Fact: According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, African-Americans make up about 5 percent of clinical trial participants and Latino Americans constitute 1 percent. As a result, treatments become biased toward whites’ reaction to drugs.

African-Americans are diagnosed with more advanced cancer, and death rates are higher. One way to help combat the issue is to have more people of color participate in clinical trials. But overcoming historical stigma is a big deal for minority populations and is likely one of the most common factors driving the low participation numbers.

For the black community, the clinical trials are reminders of the often negative intersection of ethics, race and medicine that has led to distrust. It is rooted in a history of exploitation of, and experimentation on, African-Americans that ranges from the Tuskegee Syphilis Study to a 19th-century doctor experimenting with gynecological treatments on enslaved women without anesthetics.

No one wants to feel like a big experiment, especially when they’re already sick and trying to fight a disease such as cancer, even if the medical research can lead to better outcomes.

Now more than ever, with the high death rates among black men and women, it’s time to change the narrative. Here are some ways to get the ball rolling:

First, clinicians can go into minority communities and contact community leaders, especially those who may have knowledge of clinical trials. They do exist. Many are even cancer survivors. They can also partner with churches and other agencies in the community, whose opinions are valued.

Next, clinicians can work on a plan to help minority communities gain trust in the health care system. Meanwhile, patients can search for a physician who can be trusted, one who is willing to explain the health care system to them. Another way is to garner the expertise of a health coach, an occupation that’s on the rise in many communities. Health coaches are trained to act as hands-on liaisons between patients and their plan of care. They are found to be more engaged with patients and can often build the trust and compassion between patients and doctors.

Finally, clinicians can lean on public relations professionals to increase communications between them and the community. Clinical trial enrollment barriers include the lack of proper access to health information services, socioeconomic patterns, social perceptions, time spent on travel to office visits and clinics, health literacy and drug side effects (there are many clinical trials that do not involve drug treatments at all). Clinicians and researchers could use help from trained professionals with disseminating studies into cancer communities, especially in communities of color. Cancer research terminology is often not translated for the lay public’s consumption, which is an immediate turnoff for even the most educated. Communication efforts to the public seem distant. Many patients have even expressed that researchers and clinicians should consider eliminating the term “clinical trials” altogether and use wording that is more patient-friendly and not pegged to a history of traumatic events.

In a 2014 article, Janet Stemwedel, associate professor of philosophy at San Jose State University, who studies ethics and scientific processes, was asked what steps have been taken by clinicians to dispel concerns of minority populations and she replied, “I can’t think of any positive trust-earning step that was taken, off the top of my head.”

Despite the low efforts, or those that haven’t properly traveled from the peer base to the community base, dollars from places such as the Stuart Scott Memorial Cancer Research Fund, formed by The V Foundation and family members representing Stuart Scott, have pitched in to help. This fund is dedicated to help minority researchers fight cancer in minority communities. It continues to advance Scott’s fight against cancer and assist some of the most vulnerable and disproportionately affected communities battling the disease.

Scott himself participated in a clinical trial study. He believed attitudes, beliefs and perceptions can change the thought pattern.

“Our father got seven years after he was diagnosed with cancer, and that is seven years we may not have had,” his oldest daughter, Taelor Scott, told The Undefeated.

Dr. Edward Kim, a lung cancer expert clinician, chairman of Solid Tumor Oncology and Investigational Therapeutics at Levine Cancer Institute in Charlotte, North Carolina, and a recipient of the Stuart Scott Memorial Cancer Research Fund, conducts a clinical trial on blood markers dealing with lung cancer.

“I think it’s still something that health care professionals, different support groups and education need to occur so that folks can understand what the opportunities are, and what’s the benefit for them,” he said. “I’m not saying that everybody should be on clinical trials, and every clinical trial can be a little different, but it is a way where we make progress. We can’t get a new drug unless we have a clinical trial. That’s what leads us to the next study, and the next study. I’m a strong advocate for people to be on clinical trials. I feel like we need more clinical trials out there. You find the right biomarker and identify the patient that’s going to benefit, that drug works really well.”

There are organizations that host clinical trial outreach campaigns and programs such as the federal Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health, which can be a great resource for patients.

It’s Cancer Screen Week, and getting tested could help save your life Five reasons early detection is important

ESPN’s 2017 V Week runs through Dec. 8. During the fundraiser for cancer research, The Undefeated is telling stories about early detection, clinical trial studies and research in minority communities. ESPN hopes to raise funds and awareness about the important cause championed by our friend, coach Jim Valvano. One hundred percent of all cash donations go directly to cancer research. Donate here today.


Besides V Week, it’s also Cancer Screen Week. According to the World Health Organization, 8.8 million people die from cancer worldwide and African-Americans have a higher death rate than other groups.

Over the past three years there have been more and more studies questioning whether early detection and cancer screenings actually save lives. But don’t tell that to the millions of survivors who got their cancer diagnosis early and are sharing their stories.

For instance, NFL wife and Greenville, South Carolina, native Niya Brown Matthews is a two-time cancer survivor who received her first diagnosis of stage 2 cancer in her left breast when she was just 27.

Matthews said she had no symptoms. She completed a breast self-examination in the shower and felt a knot under her arm. She underwent a lumpectomy and endured several rounds of radiation.

“When it came back in the second breast, I opted to get that one cut off and just rebuild,” Matthews said.

Now cancer-free, she is a cheerleader for early detection.

According to the National Cancer Institute, in 2016 an estimated 1,685,210 new cases of cancer were expected to be diagnosed in the United States and 595,690 people would die from the disease.

Despite the debate over cancer screenings, here are five reasons that they are important, especially in communities of color.

Early detection can help get an early start on fighting cancer.

Screening tests can help determine whether and when a treatment works best. It also determines specific precursors of genes or family history and in its early stages can reduce death rates.

Early detection may extend your life expectancy.

Early detection may mean remission for many, but it can also mean more years with your loved ones. Screenings can place you on a path to a proper treatment plan, which can extend longevity.

You can beat cancer.

Screening tests can find precancerous cells that can be removed before they turn into cancer. Cancers of the colon, rectum and cervix can be prevented through screening and can oftentimes detect cancer before symptoms appear.

Screening can prompt patients to lead a healthy lifestyle.

Some early detection includes conversations regarding family history, which can lead to testing for genes that may determine whether you are at risk for specific cancers. Knowing your risk factors can spark a healthy lifestyle that may help combat certain precursors.

Screening can cut down on health care costs.

Early detection can also cut the cost of treatment. In 2010, the total annual economic cost of cancer through health care expenditure and loss of productivity was $1.16 trillion. According to WHO, studies have shown that treatment for early diagnoses are less expensive than treating patients at advanced stages.