October isn't just a month that signifies the arrival of autumn. It's also Breast Cancer Awareness Month, when organizations bring attention to a disease that affects more than 200,000 women in America annually.
The statistics are even more grim for African-American women. According to the American Cancer Society, black women are 41 percent more likely to succumb to breast cancer than white women. However, white women are diagnosed with breast cancer at a higher rate than black women. The organization estimates breast cancer will claim the lives of more than 6,000 black women this year.
One potential reason the breast cancer mortality rates are higher among black women may be because black women are more susceptible to "triple negative breast cancer" (breast cancer not caused by the three usual receptors known to fuel most breast cancers: estrogen receptors, progesterone receptors, and human epidermal growth factor receptor 2). They are also statistically more likely to lack insurance coverage and less likely to undergo normal visits to the doctor for health screenings.
In Memphis, breast cancer mortality among black women seems to be a bigger issue than in other cities. A study conducted by Sinai Urban Health Institute in Chicago examined racial disparity in breast cancer mortality rates within the 25 largest cities in the country, and Memphis topped the list. Black women in Memphis are more than twice as likely to die from breast cancer as their white counterparts, according to the study.
The Memphis chapter of Sisters Network, a national organization composed of African-American breast cancer survivors, is helping bring awareness to this issue. The organization hosts fund-raisers, speaking engagements, workshops, and other efforts to help inform Memphians of the seriousness of breast cancer.
"There are a lot of myths about breast cancer. A lot of people don’t want to talk about their diagnosis," said Carolyn Whitney, president of the Sisters Network Memphis chapter. "A lot of women know that they have a lump, but because they can’t afford the mammogram or to go to the doctor, they feel as though, ‘There's nothing I can do.’ But there is something they can do. There are resources out there to assist any women with a mammogram. Our national slogan is ‘Stop the Silence,’ and that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to stop the silence about breast cancer through education and awareness."
To read more about the Memphis chapter of Sisters Network and its fight against breast cancer, check out my story in The Memphis Flyer next Wednesday.