Black Women: Save A Life, Get A Mammogram
By Dianne Anderson
If Black women are not rushing to their nearest wellness clinic this Breast Cancer Awareness Month to get their mammograms, they should be.
Now that the pandemic seems to have eased up, that is the hope, particularly for Black women where the rate of breast cancer has barely budged compared to white women.
Rhonda Smith, executive director of the California Black Health Network, is a 14-year breast cancer survivor. She hosted a webinar in recognition of Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day.
“We talked about the importance of clinical trials, and of Black women participating in clinical trials especially as it relates to triple-negative breast cancer and available therapies that are out there today,” she said.
Because Black women are more impacted by aggressive negative breast cancers, early detection is critical to survival.
Smith has been involved over the years with several networking groups both in Miami and California, and she is surprised to have met several white women who are living with metastatic breast cancer. She knows one woman last year who celebrated her 17th year living with the cancer.
“Very rarely do I find a Black woman past two years or a year or even months with metastatic breast cancer. Some of the [ reasons] why this happens, complications that still occur with Black women versus white women when it comes to access to treatments and clinical trials,” she said.
Some of it is the lack of knowledge of available treatments.
According to the American Cancer Society, Black women have a 40% higher breast cancer death rate, even though they get breast cancer less than white women. One concern is that health centers aren’t meeting the needs of the community.
“It is necessary for all health centers to address racial disparities in care and to atone for the decades of medical and public health mistreatment of Black persons, including the consequences of historical redlining. We have a responsibility as medical and public health professionals to reckon with systemic racism, and our own privileges, when developing health promotion and intervention activities,” states Jessica Star, MA, MPH research with the American Cancer Society.
At the same time, there is hope for survival with early detection. The American Cancer Society reports there are 3.8 million breast cancer survivors in the United States.
Long-time health advocate Ernesta Wright promotes prevention and wellness for those who have been previously diagnosed with cancer year-round. For her, the major focus is access to resources, and that women are thriving beyond cancer.
“We’re calling them conquerors. For those that were diagnosed at any time, we are intentionally saying now what? It’s beyond the “C” word, it’s how to thrive beyond diagnosis,” said Wright, executive director of the G.R.E.E.N. Foundation, serving Orange and Los Angeles counties, and the Inland Empire.
Annual mammogram screenings are critical, and she emphasizes that women should learn to regularly check their bodies and breasts, and encourage family members to do the same. The nonprofit regularly hosts support groups and many resources women need to deal with their diagnosis.
Her guest speakers have been down the same road. The facilitators are themselves breast cancer survivors.
“They are phenomenal. We talk about what are you doing now for exercise, from vitamins to hair loss to meditation. Each one would share their research on what ways to thrive in this environment outside of talking about cancer [diagnosis],” she said.
Attitude is another aspect, along with support groups, connecting individuals to others who have had breast cancer, along with the financial support that her organization provides. This month, she also calls attention to free breast reconstruction available for women that have had mastectomies, even if their surgery was many years ago.
“For women who are feeling depressed because part of their body is being manipulated, we are able to say that’s okay. You can do this and it’s not going to cost you anything. It helps to have another alternative,” she said.
Often, part of the problem with free services is that the community still doesn’t know where to access help.
In Long Beach, the Comprehensive Health Center located at 1333 Chestnut Ave., there are also free resources and mammograms available to women in need.
Dr. Carmen Mendez said according to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer remains one of the most common cancers diagnosed in women. It is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in women in the United States.
“In addition, Black women in the United States have the highest rate of death from breast cancer, but we can work to prevent these deaths with early screening. Over the last 30 years, breast cancer death rates have been declining and this [is] in part, due to early detection with screening. Doctors recommend for the general population of women over 50 to receive a mammogram every other year and potentially more frequently depending on your risk. October is Breast Cancer Awareness month and a great reminder to schedule an appointment with your primary care physician or your Ob/Gyn and see if you need a mammogram,” Dr. Mendez said in an email.
For more information on:
The California Black Health Network, see webinar: https://bit.ly/3TluOeh
For the GREEN Foundation breast cancer services, see https://www.thegreenfoundation.net/resources/
For Long Beach locations offering free mammograms, see