Breast Cancer Awareness: Unveiling the Discrepancies Holding Patients Back

Despite the nationwide incidence rate being lower than that of white women, Black women face a 41% higher death rate accompanying a breast cancer diagnosis. Looking deeper into the disease across this population unveils a trend of discrepancies

Katy Fallon
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The fight for a breast cancer cure is a widespread cause marked by the universal pink ribbon. About 13% of American women will be faced with a breast cancer diagnosis in their lifetime, putting it as one of the most common cancers for women, falling second only to skin cancer. After lung cancer, it’s the second most common cause of cancer death for women, but thanks to strides in research allowing for improved treatments and early detections, the death rate for the disease decreased by 42% between 1989 and 2019. 

For many across the globe, the prognosis of a breast cancer diagnosis has grown less daunting; the pink ribbon promises hope and strides in curing the disease. However, the encouraging future for breast cancer isn’t universal, with Black women continuously being left behind when it comes to changing the outcome of breast cancer. 

Despite the nationwide incidence rate being lower than that of white women, Black women face a 41% higher death rate accompanying the diagnosis. Looking deeper into the disease across this population unveils a trend of discrepancies. They are more likely than any other demographic to die of breast cancer and are more likely to develop the more aggressive forms, like triple negative breast cancer. Uncovering the causes behind these alarming trends calls for an increase in dedicated research. However, the industry is steps behind in making the critical changes necessary to transform the outlook of a breast cancer diagnosis for Black women.

As described by oncology researcher, Dr. Svasti Haricharan, the consensus for understanding why these disparities exist has widely been chalked up to lifestyle differences. However, Dr. Haricharan argues that this generalized conclusion evolved without first ruling out possible molecular differences, describing how, “It makes people who are sick feel they are somehow at fault because of how they’re living their lives,” and going on to explain that her research suggests it is much more complicated than that.   

Haricharan’s team has set out to identify whether biological factors are playing a role in the imbalanced effect breast cancer has on Black women. Their work examines DNA repair which has been studied extensively, but not in the context of the differences between Black and white women. Already, their research determines that there are crucial differences between genes powering cell repair which may impact how Black women’s bodies respond to cancer and treatments. Their findings bring hope to the inequality within breast cancer and research, pointing towards a future where predispositions are identified to improve the trajectory of a breast cancer diagnosis for all women. 

However, even without the added discrepancies molecular differences may bring, the innate risk of developing more aggressive subtypes and the burden of structural racism are enough to influence the course of a cancer diagnosis. Ultimately, all factors point to the uncompromising need to include more Black women in breast cancer research. From 2008 through 2018, Black patients made up just 3% of participants in FDA-approved breast cancer trials. This means that the vast majority of treatments hitting the market haven’t been tested on Black women so, regardless of additional factors that increase Black womens’ probabilities of experiencing dire outcomes, certified drugs haven’t been proven to be effective on their demographic. 

In efforts to combat the inequalities inhibiting Black women’s health, several proven-diverse sites have been selected for a recent breast cancer trial on Inato’s platform. Of those selected so far in the ongoing trial, 86% report a diverse patient population, the majority of which have access to Black-identifying populations that are more proportionally representative than the nationwide population. Additionally, a number of sites reported having research teams that were representative of their patient population, contributing greatly to promoting patient-physician relationships and trust around trial enrollment. Corroborating the benefit of existing relationships, 77% of selected sites had previously overenrolled in similar studies. These successes point towards a promising direction for broadening breast cancer trial access. 

The sites’ commitment to bringing medical innovation to underrepresented patient populations is an essential element to ending the discrepancies in breast cancer research. As awareness around a breast cancer cure remains familiar and pertinent day-to-day, it will be crucial to expand these conversations to include the disadvantageous trends constraining the power of breast cancer treatments and limiting trials from progressing towards inclusivity. 

Inato is dedicated to inclusive research and working towards a reality where no population is underrepresented in the search for efficient treatments.

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