Black is the new pink. This is a strong statement that could ring true when attributed to the alarming rising death rates among black women with breast cancer.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and each year, millions come together for a variety of events to show their solidarity and support. While breast cancer affects women of all ethnicities, it is unfortunately now more fatal for black women.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer among black women, and they are 40 percent more likely than any other group to die from the disease. The newest study from the American Cancer Society published in October shows that lack of insurance is linked to higher breast cancer rates in black women.
According to a 2015 report from the American Cancer Society, studies show “breast cancer rates among African-American women in the United States are continuing to increase. For decades, African-American women had been getting breast cancer at a slower rate than white women, but that gap is now closing.”
The findings in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians and in Breast Cancer Facts & Figures 2015-2016, two reports that are published every two years, reveal that “from 2008 to 2012, breast cancer incidence rates increased 0.4% per year in black women and 1.5% per year among Asian/Pacific Islanders and remained stable among whites, Hispanics, and American Indian/Alaska Natives. In fact, the black-white disparity in breast cancer death rates has increased over time; by 2012, death rates were 42% higher in black women than white women.” The authors of the report say that trend is expected to continue. “Black women are more likely than other racial/ethnic groups to be diagnosed at later stages and have the lowest survival at each state of diagnosis. They are also more likely to be diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer, an aggressive subtype that is linked to poorer survival.”
Although organizations such as Susan G. Komen have gained great popularity in awareness efforts over the years, there is work still to be done to reach the communities most at risk. Additionally, many well-known organizations, including Komen, have been linked to reports that reveal breast cancer donations are not being put to good use.
According to USA Today in a report from The New York Times, “the organization’s reputation was damaged slightly after a decision in 2012 to cut its grants that funded breast cancer screening and outreach programs at Planned Parenthood erupted into controversy. The group quickly reversed its decision.”
From partnering with companies that produce cancer-causing products to giving little money to actual breast cancer research, some of the bigger breast cancer organizations have actually contributed to the chasm between breast cancer awareness and breast cancer action.
Luckily, some have acknowledged this void and have created organizations that decrease the impact of breast cancer while prioritizing the black woman’s experience in the process.
If you’re looking for an organization to support in the fight against breast cancer, with an emphasis on those who are affected the most, we’ve compiled a list of groups that are punching well above their weight.
1) Sisters Network Inc., founded by breast cancer survivor Karen E. Jackson, is an organization centered on sisterhood and camaraderie for African-American women battling breast cancer. When Jackson learned of her own diagnosis in 1994, she didn’t have a representative support system to help her through the difficult time, so she created one. Jackson recognized how important it is that women have other women who they can relate to and share commonalities with other than this disease, without the divisiveness of race and socioeconomic factors getting in the way. Sister Network’s mission is to help bring awareness to the impact that breast cancer has on the African-American community. The hope is that this specialized awareness will influence early detection and help save more lives. Donations to the organization can be made with confidence, as programs such as the Sister House display just how appropriately their funding is spent. Sister Network’s Sister House is the nation’s first temporary home for African-American breast cancer survivors to meet, bond and receive supportive services while undergoing treatment at the Texas Medical Center.
2) The African American Breast Cancer Alliance is committed to spreading awareness and providing resources and support to black women and families who are affected by breast cancer. Survivor Reona Berry, along with a team of dedicated women, recognized that black women tend to have more aggressive and deadly breast cancers and can benefit the most from more frequent screenings. Together, they founded the African American Breast Cancer Alliance to promote awareness, early detection and prevention. Realizing that representation matters, this alliance provides emotional and social support to black women patients and survivors, with programs and information designed with a culturally specific emphasis on women of color. Donations to this organization go directly to rehabilitation programs, health fairs, support groups and annual celebrations.
3) Black Women’s Health Imperative, founded in 1983, is still the nation’s only health organization dedicated solely to improving the overall wellness of African-American women and girls. Through programs, policy and advocacy, and research translation, this organization seeks to help black women live longer, healthier lives. Its #WeRefuse initiative focuses on breast cancer, and through it the organization provides resources and information to ensure that fewer black women die from the disease. With a goal of increasing the number of healthy black women from 9.5 million to 12.5 million by 2020, each donation will go toward services, resources and research to make this goal a reality. From college chapters of young black women spreading health information to a full index of black women’s health data, this organization is putting its resources to good use.
4) Sisters by Choice (SBC), founded in 1989 by the prominent Atlanta-based breast surgeon Dr. Rogsbert Zell Phillips, exists to provide support services, education and early detection to women fighting breast cancer. Unfortunately, a key cause of the high mortality rate for women of color is the lack of resources and access to quality health care. Sisters by Choice aims to eliminate the access barrier and bring quality care to those who may have difficulty receiving it and has created the Sisters By Choice Mobile Clinic that comes right to communities in need. SBC aims to increase the survival rate of breast cancer patients by offering free mammograms and breast exams to uninsured and underserved women in Georgia. With a breast specialist doctor on site, the SBC Mobile Clinic offers full-service health care, which, besides breast exams, also includes “remote radiology support, comprehensive diagnostic testing, i.e., ultrasound, needle biopsy, stereotactic biopsy, minor surgery, breast MRI, patient navigation and prevention education, treatment referral and access to clinical trials,” according to its site. The SBC Mobile Clinic aims to reach 3,000 women each year, and donations can help make this possible. Donors can be sure that their offerings to SBC will go toward providing breast cancer prevention and early detection services to women who may otherwise go without.
5) Smith Center for Healing and the Arts, founded in 1996, is a Washington, D.C.-based organization that focuses on nonprofit health, education and arts. For years, the Smith Center has operated a creative breast cancer awareness program specifically designed for low-income black women in D.C. Its Patient Provider Education Project connects health providers to African-American breast cancer survivors in an effort to collectively develop broad avenues to healing. At the Smith Center, a distinction is drawn between curing, which is medically induced, and healing, which is believed to be a deeper, more experiential process, and the center is fully committed to both. The Smith Center is another surefire donation choice, as it was recognized by the Catalogue for Philanthropy as one of the best small charities in the Northeast region for the 2016-17 year.
There are many breast cancer organizations to support as breast cancer research continues. However, with breast cancer being the second-leading cause of death for African-American women, it would not hurt to lend support to a few lesser-known organizations that are providing special attention to the ones who are affected the most.