Race Targeted Portrayals of Breast Cancer Contribute to Screening Disparities

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Primary Care Coalition Convenes Breast Health Care Providers to Discuss Barriers to Breast Cancer Screenings Among African-American Women.

A consortium of breast health care providers in the National Capital Region gathered on Tuesday, June 16 to discuss new findings on the barriers and motivating factors for breast cancer screenings among African-American women in Prince George’s County, Maryland. The study revealed that misperceptions about screening guidelines and risks for African-American women to be a significant obstacles to screenings and pointed to the media as playing a role in creating confusion.

In the United States, African-American women are more likely to get breast cancer at younger ages, to be diagnosed at later disease stages, and to die from breast cancer at a higher rate than women of other ethnic and racial groups. The study found that while African-American women are generally aware that breast cancer is a threat, they consider it to be a minor one due to media messages perceived to be directed at Caucasian women. As one focus group participant stated: “I think, for the most part, breast cancer is seen as a white woman’s disease. So, it’s not something that we feel that is running rampant in our communities. At least, a lot of people don’t know that it is.”

The focus groups revealed serious misunderstandings about the relationship between race and breast cancer as well as little understanding that the risks and benefits of mammography vary by age. Focus group participants pointed out numerous instances where media messages contributed to the confusion about the importance of breast cancer screenings including stories that highlighted conflicting guidelines about breast cancer screenings and portrayed white women as breast cancer patients and survivors but not African Americans.

These misperceptions are exacerbated by a cultural hesitancy to discuss breast cancer diagnoses in the African-American community. The focus groups revealed that knowing someone who experienced breast cancer as an important motivating factor for screenings, but also found that African-American women are less inclined to talk about breast cancer because they do not want to worry their families. “Usually, the pillar that keeps the family, the African-American family together…and if something is wrong with that pillar, the family starts to fall apart,” said a focus group participant about the role of many African-American women

The University of Maryland School of Public Health’s Center for Health Equity conducted the study, which was commissioned by the Primary Care Coalition (PCC) and Doctors Community Hospital. The study consisted of six community focus groups: four composed of African-American women between the ages of 42 and 64, one composed of community health navigators, and one composed of community leaders. The purpose of the study was to find avenues to promote breast cancer screenings and develop recommendations to improve screening rates while reducing breast health disparities. “Our findings are very promising and we are looking forward to conducting more research with greater numbers of women,” said Dr. Susan Passmore who conducted the research, “We are hoping to convince a lot more African-American women that breast cancer screenings are an important part of their health and well-being.”

The findings were shared with the Regional Breast Health Quality Consortium (BHQC)—a group of more than 40 breast health care providers including primary care physicians, radiologists and oncologists who discussed opportunities to promote mammography among African-American women in Prince George’s County. “Sharing this information with the BHQC has the potential to heighten awareness of this issue among breast health care providers across the region. We really need to get out there and do something to change attitudes, because African-American mortality rates from breast cancer should not be higher than the rest of the population,” said Mary Joseph of the Primary Care Coalition and coordinator of the BHQC.


The Primary Care Coalition works with clinics, hospitals, health care providers, and other community partners to coordinate health services for low-income, uninsured residents of Montgomery County, Maryland and the National Capital Area. Our vision is a community in which all residents will have the opportunity to live healthy lives. PCC is a 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization.

Doctors Community Hospital is a non-profit medical and surgical hospital located in Lanham, Maryland. With a mission of being dedicated to passionately caring for the health of patients and the community, the hospital has provided high-quality and comprehensive health care to residents of Prince George’s County and the region for 40 years.

The Regional Breast Health Quality Consortium is a group of 50 organizations that provide breast health care and meet regularly to discuss and guide provider-level improvements, system, change, and advocacy to improve breast health care in the National Capital Region. The BHCQ is convened by the Primary Care Coalition and funded by a grant from Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

University of Maryland Center for Health Equity (M-CHE) is a university-wide research initiative, in the School of Public Health. It is an NIH designated Center of Excellence on Race, Ethnicity, and Health Disparities Research, funded by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities. Its mission is to raise the visibility of racial and ethnic health disparities and implement promising solutions to advance a better state of health through diverse partnerships, programs, and campaigns. M-CHE seeks to establish and sustain a community-engaged research enterprise on critical health disparities to achieve health equity.

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