Black women far more likely to die from breast cancer

Published: Oct. 4, 2019 at 2:59 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

It's Breast Cancer Awareness Month and a new American Cancer Society report shows that while deaths continue to decline, new cases are inching up. And researchers say the disparity between black-white breast cancer deaths remains a big concern.

Josianne Barbot was in her 20s when she lost her mother to breast cancer.

"She was 46," Barbot said. "Two days before her birthday."

Now, Barbot, 54, is battling the disease. She was diagnosed in 2016 and then two years later, her breast cancer came back.

"Very, very scary because of my history," she said. "When the doctor really gave my diagnosis saying it was malignant, I thought of my son."

Barbot has triple-negative breast cancer, an aggressive form of the disease that is more like to return after treatment.

Breast cancer death rates are 40% higher for African American women. They are more likely to be diagnosed at younger ages and with triple-negative cancer.

"None of these features can be ascribed to socioeconomic status, and so it is imperative, it's critical that we look at genetics and ancestry in trying to totally understand these types of disparities," Dr. Lisa Newman said.

Newman is the chief of breast surgery at NY-Presbyterian and Weill Cornell. Its international breast cancer research program is conducting outreach in Africa and in the NYC community. It's also working with African American breast cancer groups like the Sisters Network.

"We've actually identified some genetic markers that are associated with African ancestry and that are associated with the risk of having a triple-negative breast cancer," Newman said.

Barbot plans to take part in the research. She says she shares her story to reduce the stigma and fear of breast cancer for many African American women.

"I, personally, think because they're probably afraid of talking to people about the cancer... thinking that people are not going to look at them the same. I know for some of us the culture is a big factor," Barbot said.

She says some people hear the word cancer and think it's a death sentence. But Barbot, who is currently in remissions, says it doesn't have to be.

It's estimated more than 41,000 women in the U.S. will die of breast cancer this year.