by Chandelis R. Duster

“I am sick and tired of being sick and tired, and we want a change…”

When civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer spoke these historic words at the Williams Institutional C.M.E. Church in Harlem in 1964, she was talking about racial inequality among people of color.

Today, the quote is shared frequently online, and for women with breast cancer, it is not only a call to action, but a cry for help. Hamer, who would have turned 100 on Oct. 6, 2017, died from breast cancer at age 59 — a tragedy thousands of women of color face today.

A new report by the American Cancer Society shows the number of breast cancer deaths dropped 39 percent between 1989 and 2015, saving 322,600 lives in 26 years. While it’s a positive sign attributed to advanced treatment and early detection, the report also shows a racial health disparity between black and white women.

Between 2006 and 2015, overall breast cancer death rates decreased among black, white, Latinos, Asian/Pacific Islanders, and American Indians/Alaska Natives. In 2011, the breast cancer death rate among black women was 44 percent higher than white women, but dropped to 39 percent in 2015.

The median age of black women who die from breast cancer is 62 years old (for white women, the median age is 70 years). It is also the second leading cause of cancer death in black women.

Delayed diagnosis, social and economic status, and progression of the disease are some of the reasons for this high number, according to Dr. Vikisha Fripp, plastic and breast reconstructive surgeon at Providence Hospital in Washington, D.C.

Related:Black Women More Likely to Get Wrong Breast Cancer Care, Study Confirms

If the cancer is found late and is too far along, some of the current treatments don’t work, which Fripp said is another reason for high death rates. And because some women live in low-income areas, they can’t afford to take off from work to get treatment.

Triple-negative breast cancer, breast cancer cells without estrogen, progesterone, or HER-2 receptors, are also more common among black women than white women and are harder to treat. For example, if black women have estrogen-receptor negative cancer, they are less likely to benefit from treatment with drugs like tamoxifen that target estrogen.

Read the entire story here.

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