Breast cancer hits Black women hard in Nebraska, raising disparity issues

A recent analysis of Nebraska’s cancer register has shown a troubling level of racial disparity in survivorship among breast-cancer patients.

The data show that, in the Cornhusker State, African-American women have five-year breast cancer survival rates of only 50%. For Caucasian women, the rate is closer to 75%.

The gap was brought to light in a report airing on KVNO, Nebraska’s public-radio station.

“In Nebraska, cancer-disparities issues—or any health-disparities issue—is kind of under the radar because we think Nebraska is not diverse enough so we don’t think of health disparities. But we have a lot of them, unfortunately,” said Shinobu Watanabe-Galloway, PhD, an associate professor of epidemiology with the College of Public Health at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

Watanabe-Galloway, the lead researcher behind the new analysis, found that 7 of every 10 African-American female patients in Nebraska—versus 3 of 10 Caucasian women—live at or below the federal poverty line. She said socioeconomic differences largely explain the survivorship disparity.

The report tells the story of Janet Goodman-Banks, an African-American pastor and nurse from Lincoln, Neb., who went in for a routine mammogram in 2008. A suspicious lump was found, and conflicting diagnoses on staging followed. After finally being confirmed with stage two breast cancer, Goodman-Banks underwent surgery and six rounds of chemo.

Seven years later, her cancer is in remission and she is working as breast cancer outreach nurse for the Malone Community Center in Lincoln.

“There are just so many barriers there that prevent women, especially of color, from getting or seeking the medical help or the preventive care they need concerning the cancer,” said Goodman-Banks, adding that she has made it her goal “to find them the resources to get them a mammogram, because it saved my life.”

Watanabe-Galloway suggested that the toughest root of the survivorship gap might be a lack of awareness within the Black community and among some medical providers.

“A lot of African-American women are diagnosed at a later stage, and part of the reason is that the screening is not done widely among African American women,” Watanabe-Galloway said. “Awareness, in general, is very low in the African-American community.”

To listen to the broadcast or read a transcript, click here