Medical experts agree that black women die of breast cancer more often than white women. But here in Chicago, the numbers appear to be especially alarming. The Chicago Metropolitan Breast Cancer Task Force said today that African American women in this city are more than twice as likely as white women to die of breast cancer.
And yet it's white women who are more likely to get the disease.
It's a disparity that prompted the creation of the Chicago task force, and yet Dr. Steve Whitman of the Sinai Urban Health Institute says instead of shrinking, the gap has continued to grow.
"Through 2003, the black death rate was 68 percent higher than the white death rate," he said. But the "newest data compiled through 2005 shows ... the rate is now 116 percent higher."
In fact, Dr. Whitman says Chicago's black-white disparity in mortality rate is five times bigger than New York City's.
The dramatic findings have prompted a major collaboration between breast cancer advocates, medical experts and organizations dedicated to fighting the disease, and now battling the disparity. For example, there's a grant for peer educators to canvas communities on the South Side and provide information on breast cancer health. "Mammogram Navigators" are charged with identifying women who need a screening, and then helping them navigate the system.
Task force advocates also worked with Illinois lawmakers to draft the Reducing Breast Cancer Disparities Act. Among other things, it aims to eliminate copays and deductibles for mammography screening, and to increase the number of mamography providers in underserved communities.
As to the cause of the disparity, a Task Force report suggests African American women receive fewer mammograms, and when they get them, the screenings are of inferior quality. The report also found that Afrcan American women don't have adequate access to quality treatment after a breast cancer diagnosis.