Call to Action: Reducing Breast Cancer Disparities
Co-authored by Komen Charlotte’s executive director Stamie Despo and board member Debbie Kleman
As the Charlotte community increases its focus on reducing racial disparities, there is a critical need to include health outcomes in our efforts. Consider this: African-American women diagnosed with breast cancer are 40 percent more likely to die than white women, and they are more likely to be diagnosed at late stage, with more aggressive forms of the disease. Latinas are also disproportionately impacted by the disease and are more likely to be diagnosed with larger, more difficult to treat tumors.
These disparities are unacceptable. Reducing them has become an integral part of our mission at Susan G. Komen Charlotte, which is working hard to improve outcomes in a 13-county area.
Researchers have not pinpointed the causes of the disparities, which is why additional funding for research is essential – and why Komen is heavily invested in funding that research. (Nationally, the organization is second only to the U.S. government in the amount it invests in breast cancer research.) Additionally, we apply a 360-degree approach to fighting breast cancer across all fronts, including driving research discoveries, improving access to high-quality care, community outreach and education, and public policy advocacy.
These health disparities are some examples of the far-reaching consequences of economic and health inequity. Our minority patients are less likely to have health insurance, access to transportation, and regular checkups – all of which makes them more likely to get diagnosed at a late stage when breast cancer is tougher to treat.
Komen is using a boots-on-the-ground approach to address this reality, meeting women where they are in the Charlotte region. One example is Pink Sunday/Domingo Rosado, where we partner with predominantly African-American and Latino churches to provide education leading to action. Komen Charlotte has one of the most robust and longest-running versions of this program, as this year was our 10th anniversary, and 443 churches and faith-based organizations participated across the region. Fifty of those churches were in the six zip codes that county health leaders have identified as priorities in the fight against quality of life disparities.
This program is leading to more stories like Elaine Patterson’s, who says she was able to recognize her symptoms as a direct result of what she learned at Pink Sunday. Elaine, who is African-American, was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer, treated, and now has no signs of breast cancer.
In addition, Komen Charlotte is increasing its efforts to make navigating breast cancer as simple as making a phone call. We have seen a 128 percent increase over the past year in the number of calls our office receives from people who need help locating free breast services or resources after being diagnosed. We provide comprehensive patient navigation services to meet this growing need, answering questions and getting people to the right resources. If you have questions, please call 704-817-4086.
Calling that number will also allow you to learn about our financial assistance program, which helps about 100 people in our community every year. In partnership with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, we provide a stipend to help cover things like medication, transportation and child or elder care while undergoing treatment. By providing financial assistance, we can ensure that more people are accessing the care they need.
We also need your help to reach more people in the Charlotte area, fund more research, and reduce breast cancer disparities. Contact us about bringing Pink Sunday/Domingo Rosado to your faith-based organization. Consider volunteering with Komen Charlotte. And the simplest step anyone can take is to participate in the Race for the Cure each year. As our largest annual fundraiser, it is directly linked to the scope of services we can provide locally. Please join us, and be part of the solution.