Breast cancer care experiences


On March 8, the World celebrates International Women’s Day. This year, we want to raise awareness about breast cancer and highlight the impact it has on Black women.

In the United Kingdom, 1 out of 8 women is likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer according to the National Health Service (NHS) statistics.  If caught at an early stage, there is a good chance of recovery.  Regular medical checks are essential.  Breast Cancer appears to be the most common type of cancer in women over fifty, but others can get it at a younger age. In addition, UK Health Service agency (UKHSA) argues that “previous research has shown that black women have poorer survival rates from cancer than white women”.  

Globally Black women tend to have lower rates of breast cancer however this is increasing. Due to the wide range of differences between countries and healthcare systems, early detection and diagnosis, access to treatment, records and mortality rate will vary. It is important to understand why black women under the age of 50 tend to have a higher rate of grade 3 tumours, why the disease is on the increase in black women and is current treatment effective. 

The data underscores the disparity about the way breast cancer affects white and black women.  Death rates are higher for black women than for white women. If ethnic minorities get breast cancer less than white, cultural beliefs are among the other factors explaining why Black women are likely to be diagnosed at a more advanced stage of breast cancer. 

Overall, black women had lower cases of breast cancer in comparison to white women but had a higher mortality rate. There is little to no research that can be found on the Black British female population in the UK, therefore there are assumptions that the outcomes are similar to African American women. Bowen, R., Duffy, S., Ryan, D. et al. (2008). Why is the lack of research a problem? the fact that certain types of Breast Cancers are most likely to affect Black women eg. black patients had a greater frequency of grade 3 tumours, lymph node-positive disease and negative ER and PgR status, compared with white women. There has been much speculation regarding biological factors, which may underpin ethnic differences in breast cancer biology but without significant research cannot know if this is true. It is important to understand this to enable better prevention education and to adapt treatment if necessary. 

Earlier diagnosis and access to treatment underpins the global rate of death. Diagnosed at a more advanced stage of the disease meaning that the tumour gets larger and spreads more widely, many metastasises, compared to white women. Black women suffer more from Triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC).

A report from the American Association of Cancer Research states the impact of COVID 19 has led to further inequalities due to later diagnosis and a decline in surgery. Studies from the US show that there is a higher mortality rate due to unequal access to healthcare, however, for the Uk, this differs as there is equal access to healthcare via the NHS. Differences could depend on areas of deprivation E.G. being understaffed, having longer waiting lists due to higher population density in certain areas, having to share resources between hospitals, lack of funding etc. 


It’s worth addressing this demographic inequality, having more educational resources, going for regular screening, having a variety of options for treatment, and support for those who do not have access to health care.

Increasing awareness means that prevention remains critical. Early detection helps with recovery. Environment and Lifestyle is important – eating a healthy diet,  regular exercise, controlling body mass index and limiting the intake of alcohol. For those who can get pregnant, nursing helps reduce the risk of breast cancer. 

Ala Taylor

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