Wilson: 'We must do more' to Address Disparities in Breast Cancer

In 2013, nearly 230,000 women were diagnosed with invasive breast cancer and an additional 65,000 with noninvasive breast cancer.

I was one of 27,000 African-American women diagnosed with breast cancer in the same year.

Now cancer-free after aggressive treatment with chemotherapy, surgery, radiation and targeted therapy to reduce my risk of recurrence, I am about to celebrate my two-year anniversary as a breast cancer survivor. As many do after hearing the words “you have cancer,” my family and I looked to give the journey purpose, so we shared our lives during treatment in Ken Burns’ documentary Cancer: Emperor of All Maladies. And though making it through treatment was not easy, the most challenging part of the cancer battle is after treatment ends. There is still so much that we do not know about breast cancer, especially in African-American women. For me, it is a call to arms against this malady.

We know that screening mammography and timely follow-up of suspicious results are essential for the best opportunity for a cure. As a cancer surgeon and researcher at Howard University Hospital and Cancer Center (HUH and HUCC), I have seen the difference in the tumor characteristics. They are often more aggressive in African-American women. Although new breast cancer cases are not highest in African-American women for most age groups, they are highest for African-American women under the age of 40, and compared with other ethnicities, we are less likely to have long-term cures. We are more likely to have breast cancers with fewer targets to treat (estrogen receptors present) with current standard-of-care targeted therapies.

Quality access to breast cancer care is essential. It decreases, but does not eliminate, the disparities we see in breast cancer outcomes. As a believer in evidence-based treatment, it means We Must Do More. Research dollars must be directed toward understanding what disparities mean to breast cancer and how to implement the best treatments for African-American women and men with this diagnosis.

At HUH and HUCC, we hear the call and have developed an amazing Breast Group of clinicians, researchers, naviga- tors, oncology nurses, genetic counselors and so many more to provide dedicated, tailored, evidence-based care. In August, we launched a Transdisciplinary Clinic that allows breast cancer patients to see all specialists on the same day, reducing the time between evaluation and developing a tailored plan of care and survivorship. Our group is dedicated to changing the disparities we see in breast cancer.

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