Economists have described Black women as a bedrock of the U.S. economy. Yet despite recent scientific advancements and the growing economic and political power of Black women in the United States, no significant progress has been made in the healthcare and health outcomes of Black women.
Dr. Kim Johnson,
Senior Director, Susan G. Komen’s Stand For H.E.R. (Health Equity Revolution) Initiative
Yet despite recent scientific advancements and the growing economic and political power of Black women in the United States, this progress has not translated into gains in the healthcare and health outcomes of Black women. In fact, we are losing Black women disproportionately to a myriad of diseases, including breast cancer. Black women are about 40 percent more likely to die of breast cancer than white women. We are often diagnosed at younger ages, at later stages, and with more aggressive breast cancers leading to limited and costly treatments with poor prognosis.
As part of a multi-year effort to close the breast cancer mortality gap between Black and white women in the United States, Susan G. Komen recently launched a new initiative called Stand For H.E.R. — a Health Equity Revolution.
Health equity means that everyone has a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible. This requires removing obstacles to health such as poverty, discrimination, and their consequences, including powerlessness and lack of access to good jobs with fair pay, quality education and housing, safe environments, and healthcare. This is important because Black women face the combined effects of racial, gender, ethnic, and other forms of bias while navigating systems and institutional structures in which entrenched inequities remain the status quo.
To better understand these barriers, the inequities that must be addressed, and what interventions are needed to support Black women, Komen conducted comprehensive analyses within the 10 U.S. metropolitan areas with the greatest breast cancer inequities. The resulting report, “Closing the Breast Cancer Gap: A Roadmap to Save the Lives of Black Women in America”, detailed the underlying causes of breast cancer inequities across the breast cancer care continuum among Black women, with a focus on systemic and social determinants of health. In the reports, Black women across the country recount experiences of barriers they face, racism in the healthcare setting, and being subject to substandard care — despite their income, education, or insurance status.
The report found that Black women experience higher rates of death from breast cancer due to a combination of factors, including barriers to early diagnosis, the aggressive nature of certain breast cancers that are more prevalent in Black women, genetics, lack of quality care, discrimination, and systemic racism.
Utilizing the insights gained from the report and following its recommendations for change, Komen’s Stand for H.E.R. initiative aims to decrease breast cancer disparities in the Black community beginning in the 10 U.S. metropolitan areas included in the report. This initiative will seek to improve the quality of breast cancer treatment in partnership with the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s Quality Oncology Practice Initiative and will connect women to care and support through Komen-trained, culturally competent patient navigators who understand the barriers people in the Black community face. To address disparities in genetic counseling and testing in the Black community, Komen is developing culturally competent materials about genetic counseling and testing and will provide genetic counseling and testing services to the Black community.
We know Stand for H.E.R. cannot stand alone. It is critical that every sector robustly addresses breast health inequities that plague Black women. Creating large-scale impactful change relies on the commitment of all stakeholders to move beyond the status quo and work collectively to solve this problem. We must align our efforts to achieve results and create measurable improvements.