Cancer has long been a leading killer in the black community. One in nine African-American women in the United States will develop breast cancer during their lifetime, according to the American Cancer Society. Of those, 42 percent more are likely to die of the disease than white women.
“The disparities are shocking,” said Andrew Asato, CEO the local Komen organization.
But there’s little comparable at the a local level, something the Oregon and Southwest Washington chapter of the Susan G. Komen Foundation hopes to change. The group launched an initiative this week to collect data about health disparities in the black community to learn how health care providers can reduce barriers for black women to access support.
They received a grant from the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute Community Partnership Program to survey the region’s demographics, breast cancer screening habits and barriers to screening and treatment.
The team will be led by Angela Owusu-Ansah, Ph.D, a professor at Concordia University in Portland. It also includes Kelvin Hall, an adjunct professor and doctoral candidate at Concordia, and D. Bora Harris, a diversity consultant.
“As an African-American person, I realize the load on people impacted by cancer,” said Hall, who has had several family members die of the disease. “There needs to be support pieces out there, because it falls on the shoulders of just a few family members.”
The team also will look at the social as well as institutional obstacles African-American women face to health care.
“In addition to health disparities within our underserved and underrepresented communities, as African American women, we have historically been taught to ‘hush’ concerning many things,” Harris said. “This tradition of silence may have negatively impacted several phases of our quality of life in respect to our health.”
Once that data is collected, the nonprofit advocacy group plans to bring a set of recommendations to public and private health care providers, hospitals and community groups to help reduce the rate at which black Portlanders die from breast cancer.
“It is time to move beyond education and do what we can to encourage action,” said Asato.