The Chicago Tribune reports (registration required) that a task force has formed in Chicago to study why black women living there are more likely to die of breast cancer than white women.
Researchers have struggled for years to explain why black women have a higher mortality rate from breast cancer than white women, even though black women are less likely to be diagnosed with the disease. Studies have been able to identify that black women have a higher risk of being diagnosed with a more aggressive form of breast cancer.
Although the Tribune points specifically to the statistics uncovered in Chicago, the disparity in breast cancer mortality rates is not isolated to urban areas. Black women have a 37 percent higher rate of death attributed to breast cancer nationally.
It may be hard to find in the face of such alarming statistics, but the potential exists for some serious medical and social advancements. The federal study currently underway at the University of Chicago is exploring social factors that may bring about biological changes in breast cancer. Researchers are studying factors like social isolation, depression, poverty and stress. Also under review is the impact of inadequate healthcare and lack of access to mammograms for early detection.
The Chicago task force has scheduled a summit in January to be co-chaired by Ruth Rothstein, former CEO of the Cook County Bureau of Health and now president of the board of Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine. Joining her will be Sister Sheila Lyne, CEO of Mercy Hospital and former commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, and Donna Thompson, CEO of Access Community Health Network.
With what Steve Whitman, director of the Sinai Urban Health Institute, calls “the three most powerful women in health care in Chicago” leading the charge, this black woman is feeling cautiously optimistic.