Breast Cancer Disparities

November 27, 2019

Breast cancer is the most common form of detected cancer in women in the U.S., according to Carol DeSantis, MPH, a principal scientist in surveillance research in the intramural research program with the American Cancer Society. DeSantis spoke to residents, faculty and medical professionals at the Dr. Joe W. and Virginia Hursey O’Neal Endowed Lecture held at DCH Regional Medical Center on November 7.

The endowed lecture was hosted by The University of Alabama College of Community Health Sciences. Carol DeSantis

DeSantis said breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death among women. Lung cancer is the first. DeSantis evaluates the disparities across different races when it comes to detection, education and treatment of breast cancer.

White women have the highest incidences of female breast cancer in the U.S., followed closely by black women, according to the 2019 Breast Cancer Statistics report by the American Cancer Society. However, black women are more likely to die from breast cancer. DeSantis said part of the reason for this, according to the American Cancer Society’s 2019-2020 Breast Cancer Facts and Figures findings, is that the quality and availability of health care for black women is often less than that available to other races. That report also found that genetics may play a part.

Black women make up the largest group to have the HR/HER2 negative subtype of breast cancer. Of the four known subtypes, this is often the most aggressive and difficult to treat. It is also more likely to reoccur within five years. DeSantis said it is still unclear to researchers why black women have this subtype more often than other races, but they are continuing to look for answers.

DeSantis said that while researchers’ findings can’t identify how to reduce the risk of developing the more aggressive breast cancers, researchers at the American Cancer Society can begin to educate policy makers and the public about the insurance and socio-economic factors and other disparities that affect access to preventive health care, early detection and treatment.

Dr. Joe O’Neal, a longtime Tuscaloosa physician, created the Dr. Joe W. and Virginia Hursey O’Neal Endowed Support Fund at The University of Alabama College of Community Health Sciences in December 2007. O’Neal wanted to honor the memory of his wife, who died of breast cancer, and educate medical students, residents and practicing physicians about breast cancer, specifically prevention and early detection.