Housing Segregation Affects Black Women’s Breast Cancer Survival Rates

While there have been well-known racial disparities in the diagnosis and survival rates for breast cancer patients, there may be other factors besides the actual race of a patient causing this. The neighborhood that someone finds themselves in may also play a part in diagnosis and survival rates.

The Study

The University of Illinois did a recent survey to determine the role neighborhoods and segregation does on diagnosis and mortality rates. The survey consisted of patients aged 19-91 from cancer registries in six different states. There were 93,000 black women in the metro areas from the years 1980 to 2010. The study looked at racial segregation and composition, rates of poverty, and access to mammography.

The study showed that living in a neighborhood with mostly African Americans increased black women’s rates of being diagnosed in the later stages of breast cancer and increased their chances of dying from breast cancer.

White women also had similar rates of mortality from breast cancer when they lived in neighborhoods with predominantly black populations as well.

This demonstrates how segregation can change a woman’s chances of treatment and survival in the face of breast cancer, and that the disparity in survival is not based in race on its own.

One Woman’s Breast Cancer Story

In 2008, Cheryl King, 59, was a resident in Chicago in South Shore. She discovered a lump in her right breast and went to the doctor in South Side. The doctor dismissed her concerns and told her African Americans often have lumps in their breasts.

By the time she was able to get more appointments to check this, her lumps were discovered cancerous. They had grown to a stage 2 tumor in the time it took to get quality care.

King said that she believes if she lived outside the predominantly black area, “perhaps on the North side,” the doctors would have taken her concern much more seriously.

Areas that have high levels of racial segregation, which has been determined to be neighborhoods that have a predominantly African-American population, are often areas that lack the resources for keeping its communities healthy.

Chicago, where Cheryl King is from, is very known for its racially segregated communities. It is the 13th most segregated metropolitan area in the US.

This is not to say that neighborhoods are the only factors causing a racial discrepancy in cancer outcomes. Among other causes, issues with breast cancer diagnosis, treatment, and mortality rates appears to involve race– but the issue can lie in the fact that communities with mostly black people tend to have less resources and access to health care facilities with quality care.

In New York, which has a different demographic layout, African American women have lower death rates. This suggests that the disparity in diagnosis for breast cancer in black women is not just biological. In comparing black women in New York and Chicago, it appears that the segregation of resources plays a huge part in treatment, diagnosis, and quality of care and resources.

It’s understood that people who live in less wealthy and affluent neighborhoods have shorter life expectancy. A look at information from Center of Society and Health shows that in Washington Park, which is segregated and mostly black, the life expectancy is 69. In the more affluent Hyde Park, the life expectancy is 82.

Dr. April Swoboda, who is a breast cancer oncologist, says that while biological aspects play a part in breast cancer diagnosis, environmental factors like being able to get to health care facilities, stress, and even the effects of racism, are playing very important parts in the higher levels of death between black and white women.

With this in mind, we see the effect that racism and segregated communities have on people’s health.

Different insurance rates, low-income housing, and inability to travel to health care facilities, add to the struggles for people in predominantly black neighborhoods to get quality care treatment that they deserve.

An Illinois legislator has just passed a Breast Cancer Excellence in Survival and Treatment Act that went through in 2015. At the time of this article however, the law is not yet in effect. When it does go into effect, it promises to help reduce the racial inequality in healthcare.

A look at racism, neighborhood redesign, and segregation will have to be deeply explored to see lasting changes.

Check out the original article here.


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