BLACK WOMEN BEARING UNEQUAL BURDEN OF A DEADLY DISEASE
By Black Women's Health Imperative
Monday, March 10, 2008.
Despite having the greatest risk of developing and dying from colorectal cancer (CRC) of any gender, race or ethnicity, an astounding majority of Black women do not consider themselves to be at high risk for the disease, according to recent studies.
This alarming misperception has resulted in deadly inaction, with 70 percent of Black women in America over the age of 45 not getting potentially life-saving screenings for CRC.
Responding to this significant health threat, the US-based Black Women's Health Imperative (Imperative) and the National Women's Health Resource Center (NWHRC) joined forces to launch Black Women Dare to be Aware.
An educational initiative designed to uniquely address the needs of our women, the initiative confronts the issues preventing Black women from getting screened and seeking treatment by daring them to recognize their heightened risk and take action.
"Colorectal cancer is not color blind and it has a penchant for Black women," said Lorraine Cole, the former president and CEO of the US-based Black Women’s Health Imperative. "
Our mission is to let every Black woman know why it's so critical for them to get screened early. We're also giving them tools to help them take action against this deadly but beatable disease," added Elizabeth Battaglino Cahill, RN, executive director, NWHRC.
Many of our women are not aware of the benefits of early detection. In fact, if colorectal cancer is detected while still in the localized stage, the five-year survival rate in among Blacks is 83 percent. However, according to the survey, a mere six percent of women over 45 discussed CRC the last time they saw their health care provider, because they didn't think they were at particular risk (27%), their doctor didn't bring it up (15%) or they didn't think there was a reason to (16%).
Many theories - some supported by research - attempt to explain the disparity in screening habits for Black women, ranging from health care access, to socioeconomic factors, to cultural beliefs, to inadequate patient education.
Fear and lack of awareness of their heightened risk surfaced as major obstacles to screening for survey respondents; most Black women over age 40 would be more likely to get screened for cancer if they believed they were at risk (94%); if they had symptoms (95%) - which do not present until the disease is advanced; if they were not afraid to find out the results (70%); if the tests were not so unpleasant (71%); and if the side effects of cancer treatment were not so bad (73%).
Yet only 36 percent of respondents are even aware of treatment options including oral chemotherapy, which may have less severe side effects than intravenous therapy.
"Black women face many barriers to screening, detection and treatment of colorectal cancer, but getting beyond our own fear and learning the facts can go a long way in improving our survival and quality of life," said Dr. Edith Mitchell, clinical professor of medicine and program leader in gastrointestinal oncology, Thomas Jefferson University.