Why Is Breast Cancer Worse For Black Women?

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"Cancer Screenings," the latest installment of Refinery29 and Planned Parenthood's Her Shorts video series, opens with a young woman sitting at the kitchen table, feeling a lump in her breast, and anxiously prodding her mom (played by esteemed author Jacqueline Woodson) to feel it. "Is this a thing?" she asks. Soon, her whole family, including grandma and her neighbor, are in the kitchen feeling her up and weighing in on the question.

The video above is a charming and realistic take on what it really feels like to have a health scare, and it is meant to shed light on a serious issue — the need for accessible cancer screenings for young women, especially women of color.
Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths among women in the U.S., and has a particularly devastating impact on women of color. According to the latest figures from the American Cancer Society, Black women diagnosed with breast cancer are 40% more likely to die of the disease than white women. And the gap in survival seems to have grown over time, as mortality among white women has decreased, while the mortality rate for Black breast cancer patients hasn't improved at all.

"It used to be that white women were more likely to get breast cancer, and Black women were more likely to die from the disease," says Bijou Hunt, an epidemiologist at the Sinai Urban Health Institute in Chicago. "Now, Black women and white women are equally likely to get breast cancer, but Black women are still more likely to die."

The reason, Hunt surmises, is that although there have been advances in treatment, Black women are less likely to have access to the best quality screening and care. "Will that change as more and more people get insured? We hope so, but it's entirely possible that as people get more insurance, they're still going to need help navigating the health care system," Hunt adds.

And that's where Planned Parenthood comes in. Its health centers around the country are committed to providing the preventive health services that underserved communities need most. The professionals at Planned Parenthood are on the front line of this problem, providing 635,000 breast exams and Pap tests to patients around the country.

At the end of the video short, we get to see that same young woman escape the noise and go get the lump checked out. It turns out to be benign, but the important thing is that she goes to see a medical professional.

"You want to make sure you get your breast cancer and cervical cancer exams regularly. It's just part of loving and protecting your body," says the nurse practitioner (played by Ashley Ford). "Breasts go through all kinds of changes for lots of reasons. But I'm glad you came in to get that lump looked at. It's something you should encourage all the women in your life to do."

Consulting Producer: Lena Dunham. Producer: Shannon Gibson. Producer: Caren Spruch. Writer/Director: Katherine Bernard. Cinematographer: Carrie Cheek. Camera Op: Nelson Salcedo. Wardrobe: Jesper Gudbergsen. Key MU: Michael Patterson. Key Hair: Tish Celestine. Music specially composed for this piece by Mikey Hart.

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