It’s the fifth day of National Minority Cancer Awareness Week! Read the final part of this three part series to see what Dr. Sharon Wilks, M.D., F.A.C.P, a physician with the Cancer Care Centers of South Texas, has to say about minority cancer awareness. Dr. Wilks played a big role in helping Blanca survive this disease and has been a main supporter throughout her journey.
Continuum of Care Disparity: Screening
Dr. Wilks works with a broad range of races and ethnicities. A prominent issue that she observed in 2013 was minority women presenting more advanced stages of breast cancer. When advanced stages of breast cancer are presented at first diagnosis it is most often due to a woman waiting a certain period of time before being screened. Lack of breast cancer screening is a critical gap in the continuum of care; screening, detection, treatment, follow-up care and survivorship.
There are various reasons as to why minority women may experience a disparity in screening rates, said Dr. Wilks, which include the following barriers:
- Poor access to care
- Uninsured or underinsured
Dr. Wilks explained that myths are a barrier to women of all races, ethnicities and cultural backgrounds. Many women reason that if breast cancer is not in their family history, then they do not need to worry about or be screened for breast cancer. This perception of not being at risk is a large barrier that discourages women from entering the continuum of care, where even if a woman has health insurance she may not be screened due to believing she is not ask risk for the disease.
Other socioeconomic and demographic barriers which can affect screening rates include, but are not limited to:
- Living in poverty
- Linguistically isolated
- Minimal education
Whatever the reason or barrier may be, the disparity in breast cancer screening for minority women is evident. Dr. Wilks stated that she finds minority women far more often diagnosed at advanced stages and therefore in need of advanced treatment, such as chemotherapy, than what is regularly seen in the non-minority community.
“We need to strive to be sure that all women are screened even when they are not presenting any symptoms,” affirmed Dr. Wilks.
Minority Breast Cancer Disparity: Barriers
Barriers, which many minorities experience, may affect the outcome of a patient’s treatment. Though is not frequent, Dr. Wilks has recognized that a language barrier may affect a patients treatment outcome. Such that if a patient is linguistically isolated, such as being Spanish speaking only, the patient might experience a sense of denial and may not always have a clear understanding of the situation. A few visits after said patient might have responded that they understood the situation, Dr. Wilks becomes aware that there wasn’t actually comprehension. She feels that this language barrier can affect the outcome of treatment for the disease.
Specific Race and Ethnicities: Risk Factor Awareness
A woman being aware of her racial or ethnic backgrounds breast cancer risk factors was encouraged by Dr. Wilks. For example, African American women have a lower risk for breast cancer incidence, but experience more aggressive forms of breast cancer. These women also have higher risk factors for triple negative breast cancer which is very fast growing and can become metastatic early on.
In addition, women need to pay attention to changes in their breasts; due to racial or ethnic background breast cancer risk factors, a woman could be at risk for a rapidly progressing type of breast cancer which could become metastatic much faster than one might think. This is also important to be screened as a precautionary measure even when you are not presenting symptoms for breast cancer.
Though the breast health services offered by Komen Austin community partners are comprehensive, we still see local breast cancer disparities. This is why locally available breast health education is imperative.
Read tomorrows blog to find out what Komen Austin’s very own Director of Mission Services, Eliza May, is doing to strengthen multicultural breast health awareness efforts in order to provide the education of prevention and detection that is needed for women to choose to be screened.
We can’t let this disease live in silence. Join the conversation by sharing your photos, stories, and breast cancer awareness efforts on Twitter and Facebook using #NMCAW2014 this week!